More than 20 trade unions, charities and human-rights organisations have backed a call for an immediate and rapid inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The British Medical Association, the human-rights charity Amnesty International and Disability Rights UK are among the groups that have cosigned a letter from the grassroots organisation Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice to the prime minister demanding an inquiry “to minimise further loss of life”.
The letter, dated 3 December, argues that instead of waiting until the pandemic is over, the public inquiry must be immediate and have a rapid-review phase that would report back “within weeks”.
“Any government, particularly during an unprecedented public health crisis, should be guided by the evidence, and we have never been more in need of swift, evidence-based policy recommendations,” the groups wrote.
There is precedent for such a rapid inquest, they added, citing the inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor into the Hillsborough disaster that took just 31 days to report back and recommended extra safety measures for football stadiums.
“While it is not for us to determine the outcome of an inquiry, there are several areas which we believe should be addressed as a priority,” the groups added.
The inquiry should evaluate the effectiveness of the test and trace programme, in line with World Health Organisation standards, and examine government decision making, “including how infection-control measures are decided and how risk levels are communicated to the public”, the groups said.
It should also examine the disproportionate impact coronavirus has had on black and ethnic minority communities, the letter added.
“It is crucial that we identify why this is the case and what actions can be implemented now to mitigate the impact of the virus on these communities,” it said.
Finally, it added, the inquiry must assess whether the NHS has the capacity and capability to provide “appropriate care” to Covid-19 patients, it said, including the effectiveness of NHS 111 to identify which patients need medical intervention and how to prevent residents and workers in hospitals and care homes from contracting the virus.
The inquiry must satisfy the government’s legal responsibility under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to give bereaved families an opportunity to participate, the letter added.
The letter notes Boris Johnson’s commitment in July to launch a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.
Former cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told CSW this summer that the inquiry would need to ask “questions about whether the right decisions were taken at the right time... Are there things we could have done better? Could we have had more preparations in place? Are there different decisions we could have taken?"
He later told a committee of MPs that the inquiry must inform future contingency planning
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which represents more than 2,000 families who have had a member die from the virus, has been petitioning the government for a rapid probe since June.
Its co-founder, Jo Goodman, said it was “clear a Covid-19 inquiry cannot be delayed any longer”.
Backing the call in yesterday’s letter, BMA chair Chaand Nagpaul said: “With a second wave still resulting in thousands of patients being hospitalised and dying each week, it is essential that there is a rapid review of lessons already learned – and action taken to manage the pandemic and the pressure on the NHS, as well as to reduce further avoidable loss of lives.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The government’s handling of care homes in the first wave of the pandemic was a catastrophe and it’s vital that we do not compound that tragedy by allowing those same mistakes to be repeated. An immediate first stage of the inquiry must be started without delay.”
Responding to the letter, a No.10 spokesperson said: "In the fullness of time there will be an opportunity to reflect on all aspects of the pandemic, but for now our focus remains on continuing to drive the infection rate down."