Bindmans LLP has delivered a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding assurances on the constitution and timing of the Covid-19 public inquiry. The letter has been written on behalf of a group of lawyers from ten different law firms, who represent a large number of Covid-19 victims and stakeholders.
These victims and stakeholders include bereaved family groups, doctors, medical organisations, trade unions, charities and community organisations, and others who have been personally affected by the pandemic. The letter sets out four key demands:
- The panel will be selected in an open and transparent manner
- That its composition will reflect the diversity of the UK population, but in particular the groups most impacted by the virus
- There will be an urgent public consultation on the terms of reference
- A date will be set now for the commencement of the inquiry to be no later than April 2022
The public inquiry was announced by the Prime Minister on 12 May 2021 in a statement to the House of Commons where he stated that:
Amid such tragedy, the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future, which is why I have always said that, when the time is right, there should be a full and independent inquiry.
Jules Carey, partner at Bindmans LLP, who represents a number of the letter’s signatories including a group of doctors with long Covid, said:
The Covid-19 public inquiry needs to be properly constituted, and must commence immediately. A key part of the inquiry is to set out what measures need to be taken to ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics.
The arrival of Omicron, and the threat of new variants means that it is imperative that all lessons that can be learned from how the UK has responded to the pandemic so far, are learnt without delay. Preparedness for future hypothetical pandemics is important, but the priority has to be to learn to stop repeating the same mistakes as we battle with this current pandemic.
Dr Shaun Peter Qureshi is a doctor, currently suffering with long Covid as a result of work exposure to the virus. He comments, on behalf of a collective of 58 doctors who are also suffering with long Covid, and are signatories to our letter:
Health and social care workers have continued to provide essential services to the UK public throughout the pandemic, despite the risks to themselves. As a result, thousands have died or been left with debilitating, long term problems including long Covid. Subsequently, many healthcare workers have lost their jobs and are unable to work in any capacity.
We are a group of 58 doctors with long Covid demanding the commencement of a transparent, public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, which explores the lack of adequate protection in healthcare settings and why we and our healthcare colleagues were considered expendable.
In particular, we would like answers about the inadequacy of the PPE provided and the widespread lack of adequate protection from airborne Covid transmission in healthcare settings. We are concerned that, despite the scope of occupational injury from Covid, many healthcare settings are continuing to provide inadequate precautions against an airborne virus, which continues to put staff at risk of disability and death.
The government must also answer how they intend to ensure the welfare of healthcare workers suffering long term disability due to occupationally acquired Covid.
Please find below an excerpt of today’s statement from the TUC on this matter, and the full letter to the Prime Minister. You can also read the letter here.
Unions, bereaved families and medical experts call on government to stop dragging its feet on a public inquiry
The TUC, Bereaved Families for Justice, a group of doctors with long Covid, Independent Sage and other important stakeholders have today (Friday) joined forces to urge the government to stop dragging its feet on a public inquiry – and set out their key demands, including that the inquiry timetable is published without delay.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
With reports that Downing Street held a Christmas Party last year while the rest of us followed the rules and did not see close family and friends, we urgently need to get on with a ‘no holds barred’ public inquiry.
Our key workers – the teachers, nurses and deliver drivers – helped get Britain through the pandemic. But they were let down by the government.
Years of cuts to public services made it harder to fight the pandemic. Our hospitals and care homes were understaffed and didn’t have proper PPE. And of the UK’s broken sick pay system badly undermined the public health effort.
We owe it to our key workers and to those who died to take an unflinching look at what went wrong. And to look at how we can be better prepared for pandemics in the future.
The government must get on with announcing the start date for the inquiry and talking to unions, bereaved families and other stakeholders.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said:
We have been calling for an inquiry to start for over 18 months so that lessons can be learnt to protect the lives of others. It’s hard to explain how frustrating it is to be facing the Omicron variant having been continually ignored, and knowing that lives could be at risk unnecessarily as a consequence.
Everybody agrees that this inquiry must be focused on learning the lessons that will save as many lives as possible going forward. That means it must place those who have been most impacted at its heart, which of course includes those who have tragically lost loved ones. It must also include regular interim reporting so that lessons can be learnt as it progresses and start as soon as possible, so that more time isn’t wasted.
Following events of the last few days it’s clear only an inquiry will restore trust and transparency in time to learn lessons and save lives. This inquiry will be the biggest in British history and we simply can’t afford to get it wrong.
Dr Shaun Peter Qureshi, representing a group of doctors with long Covid, said:
Health and social care workers have continued to provide essential services to the UK public throughout the pandemic, despite the risks to themselves. As a result, thousands have died or been left with debilitating, long term problems including Long Covid. Subsequently many healthcare workers have lost their jobs and are unable to work in any capacity.
We are a group of fifty-eight doctors with Long Covid demanding the commencement of a transparent, Public Inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, which explores the lack of adequate protection in healthcare settings and why we and our healthcare colleagues were considered expendable. In particular, we would like answers about the inadequacy of the PPE provided and the widespread lack of adequate protection from airborne Covid transmission in healthcare settings.
Jules Carey, Partner at Bindmans, who represents a number of the letter’s signatories including a group of doctors with long Covid, said:
The Covid-19 public inquiry needs to be properly constituted and commence immediately. A key part of the inquiry is to set out what measures need to be taken to ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics.
But the arrival of Omicron, and the threat of new variants means that it is imperative that all lessons that can be learned from how the UK has responded to the pandemic so far, are learnt without delay. Preparedness for future hypothetical pandemics is important, but the priority has to be to learn to stop repeating the same mistakes as we battle with this current pandemic.
Elkan Abrahamson, Director of Broudie Jackson Canter, said:
The Covid bereaved have been urging the PM to set up an Inquiry for over 18 months. Tragically the delay has cost lives. Further delay will lead to more deaths.
Read the letter in full
Dear Prime Minister,
Re: COVID-19 Public Inquiry – Section 5 Inquiries Act 2005 – Assurances Sought
This letter is sent on behalf of bereaved family groups, doctors, medical organisations, trade unions, charities and community organisations; and others with a direct interest or personally affected by the pandemic; a list of the signatories is annexed to the letter.
It is anticipated that those listed in the annex to the letter will in due course apply for Core Participant status to the COVID-19 public inquiry announced by you on 12th May 2021, as they each have a significant interest in important aspects of the matters that the inquiry must address.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most significant challenge the UK has had to face since the Second World War. There have been an estimated 10.5 million cases of the disease in the UK (8.95m in England) and 170,000 deaths (143,979 deaths in England).
While every country has suffered as a result of this pandemic, the UK has stood out as having one of the highest number of recorded coronavirus deaths in the world. The scale and devastating consequences of the disease necessitates the most robust inquiry possible, and we therefore welcome your statement to the House of Commons on 12 May 2021 when you said:
“Amid such tragedy, the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future, which is why I have always said that, when the time is right, there should be a full and independent inquiry. I can confirm today that the Government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005, including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public under oath…. Every part of our United Kingdom has suffered the ravages of this virus, and every part of the state has pulled together to do battle against it. If we are to recover as one Team UK, as we must, then we should also learn lessons together in the same spirit. We will consult the devolved Administrations before finalising the scope and detailed arrangements, so that this inquiry can consider all key aspects of the UK response.
I expect that the right moment for the inquiry to begin is at the end of this period, in spring 2022.
…this inquiry must be able to look at the events of the past year in the cold light of day and identify the key issues that will make a difference for the future. It will be free to scrutinise every document, to hear from all the key players, and to analyse and learn from the breadth of our response. That is the right way, I think, to get the answers that the people of this country deserve, and to ensure that our United Kingdom is better prepared for any future pandemic”. Covid-19 Update, Hansard volume 6951
Given that this will be an independent statutory inquiry you will now; in accordance with your obligations under the Inquiries Act 2005; be considering the appointment of the chair, the terms of reference and the commencement date.
We therefore write to request your urgent written assurance that:
1. The panel will be selected in an open and transparent manner; and
2. That its composition will reflect the diversity of the UK population, but in particular the groups most impacted by the virus; and
3. There will be an urgent public consultation on the terms of reference; and
4. A date will be set now for the commencement of the inquiry to be no later than April 2022.
The Appointment of a Panel
Your statement to the House of Commons emphasises the utilitarian function of the inquiry in terms of learning lessons so that the United Kingdom is better prepared for any future pandemic. While this is clearly necessary, it is but one aspect of the process. The inquiry must also be concerned with restoring human dignity to those that have suffered and restoring public confidence in the Government, Health and Care services given the scale and impact of this disease across the UK.
It is of paramount importance that there is widespread confidence in the inquiry; indeed, the implicit statutory purpose of a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 is to address public concern.
Given that few families in the UK have been unaffected; many individuals and families have lost livelihoods along with loved ones, and everyone has been impacted by the government’s various responses to the pandemic, a panel must be appointed at the earliest opportunity that is reflective of the diversity of those communities most affected. The recruitment and selection of that panel must be rigorous and open to gain public confidence and it should avoid any suggestion that members have been chosen by an informal ‘tap on the shoulder’.
In terms of diversity, in June 2020 Public Health England (PHE) produced a report which stated:
“The PHE review of disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 shows that there is an association between belonging to some ethnic groups and the likelihood of testing positive and dying with COVID-19. This review found that the highest age standardised diagnosis rates of COVID-19 per 100,000 population were in people of Black ethnic groups (486 in females and 649 in males) and the lowest were in people of White ethnic groups (220 in females and 224 in males)”.
There is similar evidence of a disproportionate impact on disabled people, older people and the poorest communities.
Aside from the Public Sector Equality Duty under s.149 Equality Act 2010 to have due regard to the need to ‘advance equality of opportunity’ and to ‘foster[ing] good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it’ it must follow, given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and disabled people, that the constituent makeup of the panel properly reflects that diversity.
The Terms of Reference
There has so far been only speculation as to the likely Terms of Reference but the common themes emerging include:
- Preparedness – health services and social care
- Workplace safety and the impact on frontline workers
- Supplies – available equipment (especially PPE) and personnel
- Lockdowns including public health measures and messaging
- Border closures and controls
- Care Homes and care services
- Test and trace and the support available to self-isolate
- Disproportionality in impact on certain groups
If the inquiry is to “be free to scrutinise every document, to hear from all the key players, and to analyse and learn from the breadth of our response” it should follow that the terms of that inquiry can only be set after a properly constituted, relatively short (weeks not months), and urgent consultation with those individuals, organisations and communities most affected by the disease; and further that this consultation should commence without further delay.
Date of the commencement of the Inquiry
In your statement to Parliament, you stated that you expected the inquiry would begin in Spring 2022. The institution day under the Inquiries Act only triggers the process and is not the beginning of evidence hearings. In the circumstances there has already been an inordinate delay in announcing the initiation of the inquiry.
An announcement now of a ‘setting-up’ date no later than 4 April 2022 will concentrate minds on the task at hand and reduce the very real risk that memories will fade or be reformulated, documents will be lost, and it will help those who have lost most to start to feel that there will be an explanation coming for that loss.
We ask that you respond with the written assurances sought by 21st January 2022.
Sent by the following firms of Solicitors:
Broudie Jackson Canter
Hickman and Rose
Hodge Jones and Allen
Public Interest Law Centre
on behalf of those referred to in the attached annex.
- Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress (TUC)
- Matt Fowler and Jo Goodman on behalf of COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice
- Professor Deenan Pillay on behalf of Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)
- Deborah Cole (Executive Director) on behalf of INQUEST
- Nazir Afzal OBE Former Chief Crown Prosecutor
- Helen Wildbore (Director) on behalf of Relatives and Residents Association Relatives and Residents Association
- Julia Jones Founder of John’s Campaign
- Clara Maguire on behalf of All the Citizens Ltd
- Tobi Isaac Obisanya GP London Jenny Vaughan (Chair), on behalf of The Doctor’s Association
- Geraint Jones Advanced Pharmacist – HIV & Homecare (Employee of Cwm taf Morgannwg University Health Board)
- Dr Shaun Peter Qureshi, Specialist Registrar in Palliative Medicine
- Nathalie MacDermott, Academic Clinical Lecturer
- Eleanor Mountstephens, GP
- Marianne Tinkler, Respiratory consultant
- Asad Khan, Consultant Respiratory Physician
- Adelaide Lippold, GP
- Kelly Fearnley,Foundation Doctor
- Helen Bartlett, Junior Doctor
- Abigail Carey, Specialist Trainee in Geriatric & General Internal Medicine
- Joanna Kirkcaldy, GP
- Jane Thomas, Psychiatrist
- Sonia Parmar, Consultant Acute and Respiratory
- Chia Fan Liang, Consultant Physician and Geriatrician
- Emily Feilding, Consultant Geriatrician
- Jennifer Maye,s Consultant Psychiatrist
- Sarah Mason-Whitfield, GP and Emergency Physician
- Rebecca Steed, GP
- Frances Burrell, GP
- Dr Nishant Joshi
- Dr Meenal Viz
- Amar Mashru, Emergency Medicine & Prehospital Emergency
- Dr Prisila Ibrahim