For families whose loved ones died due to Covid-19, and who have been calling on the government to hold a public inquiry for over a year, Boris Johnson’s announcement of a statutory inquiry to start next year came as a bittersweet landmark. Jo Goodman, whose father, Stuart, 72, died last April, and who co-founded the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group almost exactly a year ago, said their campaign had been vindicated, but the battle with the government has caused them “trauma upon trauma” and left a legacy of mistrust.
While the announcement was “a huge relief”, the group warned that the inquiry was starting too late, and called on the government to involve bereaved families in key decision-making, including the choice of chair and terms of reference for the inquiry. Elkan Abrahamson, a Liverpool-based solicitor who has worked for free on the group’s behalf, first wrote to Johnson on 11 June last year, calling for a rapid public inquiry, naming 56 bereaved families. The group emphasised the need for an immediate, “rapid review” inquiry, so that lessons could be learned to avoid a second wave of the virus. Goodman said it was devastating for families to see thousands more people die in the winter, and the group still believes the inquiry should be set up immediately.
“In that first letter, we raised so many issues, including the discharge of people from hospital into care homes, the adequacy of test and trace, the timing of lockdown, that were not resolved by the second wave,” Goodman said. “Bereaved families had experienced other issues, such as inadequate advice from the NHS 111 service, and people being infected in hospitals. But the government refused to hold a rapid inquiry, and Boris Johnson refused to meet us, and it was terrible to see so many more people die and families suffer.”
Until Wednesday, the government had consistently refused to commit to a formal, statutory inquiry, while saying there would be some form of inquiry but never specifying when it would happen. The government did not even respond to the families’ initial letter for five weeks, despite a reminder. When it did come, the reply was not from Johnson or the health secretary, Matt Hancock, but from a senior civil servant, Lee McDonough, at the Department of Health and Social Care. Last July he set out what has effectively remained the government’s position until this week: “At some point in the future there will be an opportunity … to look back, to reflect and to learn lessons. However, at the moment, the important thing is to focus on responding to the current pandemic.”
Read more of David Conn’s report here: ‘Hell on earth’: bereaved families on the battle for a Covid inquiry