Trade unions and campaign groups have demanded an ‘immediate’ public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic to ‘learn lessons and save lives’.
The open letter to the prime minister, written by campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, calls for a first phase ‘rapid review’, which would report back within a matter of weeks – as seen with the Taylor Inquiry following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
The prime minister committed to a public inquiry on the Government’s response to Covid on 15 July, but the letter states this ‘cannot be delayed any longer’ and is ‘paramount in order to minimise further loss of life’.
The organisations said: ‘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 24 signatory organisations, including the BMA, agreed the inquiry should address a number of areas as priority, including the effectiveness of the UK’s Test and Trace programme, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
As of November, a total of 11.5m people have been tested for Covid-19 since the start of the programme, according to the Government, but performance has been inconsistent, with shortages of tests and delays in receiving results at certain periods.
The inquiry should also focus on how the Government made its decisions, including around infection control measures, and the way it communicated risk levels to the public, the letter said.
It is ‘critical’ that the inquiry looks at why Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, the organisations added, in order to identify ways to tackle the root causes.
The letter also called for the inquiry to consider the functioning and capacity of the NHS in providing care to Covid patients, as well as the provision of other urgent treatments, and the threat of the virus in hospitals and care homes.
NHS performance figures in the summer were the worst on record, with only half of patients starting treatment within 18 weeks of their referral, while roughly 4 million people were on waiting lists.
Researchers have also found that diagnoses of common physical and mental health conditions in primary care fell by up to half during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘More important than ever’
The letter added that the inquiry must satisfy the Government’s legal responsibility to give bereaved families an opportunity to participate under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
It said: ‘The recent news that a vaccine has been approved is a step in the right direction. As public life begins to return to normalcy, it is more important than ever that you make good on your promise and call an urgent statutory public inquiry now to learn lessons and save lives. Unprecedented times call for an unprecedented response. A Covid-19 inquiry cannot be delayed any longer.’