People’s Covid Inquiry – a report on the recent webinar

People’s Covid Inquiry Webinar 7 July 2021

The People’s Covid Inquiry was called by campaign organisation Keep Our NHS Public.

The Inquiry heard testimony from many witnesses and took place with support from a wide variety of individuals and organisations.

The panel (all members giving their time on a voluntary basis) was chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, the internationally–renowned human rights lawyer

Professor Neena Modi Professor of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College London and president, UK Medical Women’s Federation

Dr Tolullah Oni Urban Epidemiologist & Public Health physician at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge

Dr Jacky Davis NHS consultant radiologist, author and BMA council member (in a personal capacity)

Lorna Hackett, Barrister Counsel to the Inquiry Hackett & Dabbs LLP

You can see a full list of supporters and witnesses here.

March 2022 is too late for a public inquiry

The government has announced that there will be an inquiry next year. Medical experts and campaigners believe that the ongoing pandemic and the rise of the Delta variant means an inquiry is needed right now if lessons are to be learned and lives saved. It is especially important that testimonies from the frontline are heard now.   

Here are the key findings from the Panel based on the evidence:

  • The government has failed in its duty of candour and transparency. Truth is essential.
  • The acceptance of responsibility and accountability have been cast aside
  • There is a lack of respect for the rule of law and ministers are able to flout the law without censure or consequence. How long can this be tolerated?
  • Any government which is party to the constitution of the World Health Organisation has a responsibility for protecting life, treating people, investigating the causes of the pandemic and taking measures for its control.The government are clearly not complying with their international responsibilities.
  • The bereaved have been ignored, leaving them feeling insulted.
  • The handling of the pandemic has shown ministers to be unfit for purpose. They ignored  state provision, side-lining GP practices despite their geographical coverage, local knowledge and the trust of their patients. When it came to vaccinations , GPs have done a tremendous job in their areas: very efficient, speedy, well organised and professional – they know what they are doing.
  • Eleven years of austerity have shrunk Public Health provision. Public Health England was also side-lined.  Again, the government opted for a private solution, hastily set up at a breath-taking cost of £37 billion.  It has never worked. Those involved were not experts in this field.  The key to controlling an epidemic, as advised from the very beginning by experts in the field, is to test, trace, then isolate and support. 
  • The government refused or ignored offers of PPE and ventilators from established, experienced specialist UK manufacturers and suppliers, instead placing contracts with overseas companies or newcomers to the field.
  • Large sums have been wasted on orders for unsuitable/incorrect items. As an example, visors that did not meet the required specification are now being recycled into food trays in an attempt to recoup at least some of taxpayers’ wasted money.
  • The lack of clear instructions from the outset, both for the general public & health professionals in the NHS and social care, combined with the unnecessary delays in introducing control and testing measures were in large part the reason that the UK had the highest death rate in the developed world.
  • These failings combined with the effects of a weakened NHS following 11 years of austerity, the shortage of hospital beds – especially critical care beds- staff shortages (100,000 vacancies at the start of the pandemic) all severely worsened the UK’s ability to deal with the crisis.
  • A series of bad decisions by government: including, for example, the ‘eat out to help out’  scheme which proved a  very effective covid spreader.
  •  Recommending sufferers should ring 111 (which is not a replacement for GPs) lead to many deaths;
  • Everything was made much worse by the refusal to support the medical profession and existing suppliers by insisting on passing all action on to private companies who had no experience in critical areas.
  • The false argument made by government that there was a conflict between effective preventative measures and the preservation of the economy, forcing an either/or strategy meant that the UK did not follow the examples of New Zealand and several south-east Asian countries. Their effective and timely measures led to dramatically lower death rates and a much-reduced hit and speedier recoveries for their economies. This held even for those with low rates of vaccination.

So-called Freedom Day: the speakers confirmed that the total abrupt removal of all requirements for precautionary measures was very dangerous. It ignored the danger of Long Covid in unvaccinated young people as well as the dangers to those who, for medical reasons, could not be vaccinated. (there are 1 million Long Covid cases already).  With an anticipated 100,000 cases of the virus a day post 19 July, the government is evading their international responsibilities by increasing the likelihood of the development of further, more dangerous variants. By leaving the responsibility for taking precautions to the public, the prime minister is passing the buck & evading his responsibilities.

Programme of Action:

  • An independent judicial review NOW and not when Johnson is ‘ready’. The Hillsborough inquiry set a precedent for the speed at which an inquiry can be set up. There is no valid reason for a long delay.
  • The inquiry must be independent and have full authority. Public trust has been severely damaged by the government’s behaviour to date. Those at the sharp end are particularly mistrustful.
  • There needs to be trust in the government and the Cabinet Office.
  • Taxpayers are owed an explanation with regard to spending decisions and the handling of the pandemic.
  • The government must restore compliance with the rule of law, accountability and responsibility
  • Public Health must be properly funded. This is urgent.

Other factors exacerbating the impact of the virus in the UK which must also be addressed:

  • Prime minister’s off the cuff remarks, inconsistencies and mixed messaging.
  • The impact of 11 years of austerity
  • Poor housing
  • High rates of obesity
  • Poverty and poor health in areas of the UK resulting in disproportionately high incidences of infection

Michael Mansfield paid tribute to those giving evidence, including 39 live witnesses. These were ordinary citizens showing unremitting selfless commitment and courage toward their fellow human beings. He also referenced the agony and severe mental and moral injury suffered by many of those on the front line.

He added that they had not planned for the date to coincide with the announcement from the prime minister regarding the 19 July end to restrictions.

The panel observed that there was a deficit in democracy as a consequence of the government’s huge majority.

Michael Mansfield also reminded everyone that causing death through negligence is a criminal offence.

The panel was in complete agreement with regard to its findings and recommendations.

Articles by two witnesses to the Inquiry

Anthony Costello

Deepti Gurdusani