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Doctors and unions join bereaved families to highlight issues for Covid inquiry

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock

Doctors and trade unions have joined forces with families bereaved by Covid to highlight issues ranging from border controls to the supply of face masks that they want addressed by next year’s public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic.

The British Medical Association, Trades Union Congress, the Independent Sage group of scientists and human rights campaigners are presenting a united front with Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice to increase pressure on Downing Street to step up preparations for the inquiry.

In spite of rising concern about the new Omicron variant found in parts of the UK, they believe the inquiry, which is due to start next spring, remains essential to “save as many lives as possible going forward”.

“The fear of a vaccine-resistant variant is explicitly one of the reasons we’ve been calling for an immediate inquiry,” said Jo Goodman, co-founder of the bereavement group. “Can anyone disagree that we’d be in a better position to overcome the Omicron variant if we’d had an independent process for learning lessons from the first three waves?”

However, Boris Johnson has yet to announce a chair for the inquiry, after promising the bereaved he would do so by Christmas, or set out the terms of reference.

“The prime minister promised us that we’d be consulted on the scope of the inquiry that we campaigned for,” said Lobby Akinnola, a spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. “We’ve heard no details since, so we’ve written this report to make crystal clear the areas that the Covid-19 inquiry has to cover. We hope he’ll keep his promise to ensure bereaved families are at the heart of this inquiry.”

They are also calling on Johnson to officially establish the inquiry before he appoints the chair, making it an offence to lose, destroy or tamper with key evidence.

A government spokesperson said: “It is critical we understand what happened in detail, but at the moment it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in spring.”

The statutory inquiry is expected to be one of the most extensive, and therefore longest, public inquisitions in recent history. The inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster, which cost 72 lives, is on course to have taken four years by the time it wraps up next year. The scope of the Covid inquiry, which claimed nearly 145,000 lives so far, is likely to be far greater. The alliance is calling for the inquiry to look at:

  • Pandemic preparations

  • Public health measures

  • Support for NHS staff, hospitals and care homes

  • Border controls

  • PPE and procurement

  • Vulnerable households

  • 111 services

  • Support for frontline workers

  • Inequalities related to race, disability and regions

  • Differences between devolved nations

  • Prisons and immigration centres

  • Migrants and refugees and the homeless.

It includes the human rights charity Amnesty International, the National Care Association, which represents independent care homes, Unison, a trade union for healthcare workers, the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, and the housing charity Shelter.

Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary who has analysed how a Covid inquiry could work, predicted that it would not be completed until after the next likely general election in 2024. “People want this full version to be run by a judge, so it will be very, very long,” he told the Guardian. “I hope civil servants will get on and do their own ‘lessons learned’ exercises and start acting on the results as soon as they are clear.

“I think the main benefit of inquiries is to help you do better next time. That’s why I favoured something quick and dirty to learn the lessons of the first response so we could deal with future waves, like the one we might be entering now.”

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