People’s Covid Inquiry reveals shocking background to Covid crisis

Press release on behalf of Keep Our NHS Public – for IMMEDIATE USE

People’s Covid Inquiry reveals shocking background to Covid crisis

The first of eight People’s Covid Inquiry sessions [1] (entitled How well prepared was the NHS?) took place last night. Led by Keep Our NHS Public [2] and chaired by renowned human rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC, it featured expert testimony from leading academics in health policy Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor Gabriel Scally and Dr John Lister, who offered an explanation into the reasons why the NHS came so close to being overwhelmed during the height of this pandemic.

keyworkers and affected members of the public, NHS nurse Holly Turner, and Jo Goodman (founder of the group Bereaved Families for Justice) also relayed their own experiences of working in the NHS up until now, and of losing family members to COVID-19. Jo Goodman explained how she set up the group as she believed her father’s death to have been preventable. The group now has 2,600 members, all with similar personal experiences.

Last night’s session explored government policy over the last ten years on public health and the NHS, and its impact on pandemic planning and resilience. Participants relayed how government policy since 2010 meant opportunities to cope with a pandemic had been missed, and how policy led to the health service suffering from a lack of vital capacity and preparedness in 2020, meaning the UK was less well able to cope with a major pandemic.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director UCL Institute of Health Equity, UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said:

“The greater the need, the greater the reduction in spending.”

“How come we had a poor health record coming into the pandemic, and then a disastrous record of managing the pandemic?  What is the link between those two? I am speculating, but my speculation is the link could work in 4 ways: firstly, the quality of governance, and political culture…the disinvestment in the public sector I describe, the regressive changes to local Government.  And the fact that funding did not increase in line with usual NHS inflation. Government say they protected the NHS spending but it had gone up 3.8% annually and [then] went up 1%, that is equivalent to a cut.”

Holly Turner, Children’s mental health nurse (CAMHS), said:

“These children rely on routine and continuity, predictability, and that is all the things that support them in being emotionally stable, and everything was completely taken away from them: their school, respite, carers coming into help their families at home. They just went into complete crisis and we couldn’t go in to see them as the risk of Covid was just too high.”

“It’s been a long time that we have struggled with these circumstances.  I can remember 8 years ago working on acute mental health wards and working a 12-hour shift and there being no-one to take over the night shift and staying overnight and nobody coming in the next morning…”

“The vaccine rollout is evidence that when the NHS has the resources, they can get the job done.”

“Personally, I was not aware of any [discussions on preparedness for a pandemic] and building up to the start of this pandemic at the beginning of 2020 there weren’t discussions…But I think all the services are so stretched, just getting your day-to-day work done there is too much limited capacity to be thinking about anything else.”

Professor Gabriel Scally, President of Epidemiology and Public Health Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and member of Independent SAGE, said:

“I think much of the readiness within the state had disappeared by the time the pandemic hit. During the period from 2010 onwards in particular there was a particular hollowing out of the state to the structures and organisation of many of the relevant services, the abolition of the Governments of the regions and strategic health, and Primary Care Trusts the only body with a defined population responsibility for provision of services disappeared in planning services. And, the NHS of course moved too with the reforms to a Commissioning and contracting model. The public health structure…and Local Authority had a much-reduced role and much reduced resources. From a health perspective there was a phenomenal decrease and a move to a contracting Commission culture, and almost to a night watchman state where the Government did very little and it was left to other forces to play out the handling… “

“I think that was ill-judged, [to abolish PHE during a pandemic] and that should be done in a very structured way…We don’t even know who it’s joined between. It was part of, I think, partly blaming Public Health England for the poor handling of the pandemic or an attempt to make it out to be responsible for the poor handling.  The seeds of that failure have been set long before by many of the changes that have taken place. “

“All the contingency planning and contingency system was stripped out after 2010. The regional function disappeared. Local functions [included in my evidence] had a huge amount of resource stripped out from them.”

“I think we would have coped much, much better absolutely [without contingency planning being stripped out] The foresight report was prepared by the Government in 2006…preparing for the future it was very clear what needed to be done. In fact, ironically one of the photographs that was included in one of their documents, was a photo of large colonies of bats carrying virus with the potential to [harm] humans. It should not have come a surprise to anybody that this sort of thing could happen…We moved from a system that is very much dependent on a strong public health presence…to where the 3, 4 parts of the UK, only had one a fully trained and experienced and qualified physician [advising government], it’s unprecedented in the last almost 150 years not to have public health doctors at the centre of Government.”

Jo Goodman co-founder of the Bereaved families for Justice groupsaid:

“I lost my dad…he was one of those that lost his life because the lockdown came too late and because vulnerable people weren’t effectively protected. My dad received his shielding letter 9 days after he passed away.”

“Really early on one of the clear patterns emerging was of people clearly needing hospital treatment but were told to stay at home by the 111 service…people were being asked very strict scripted questions, which when they answered in a particular way, it was deemed that that person didn’t need to go to hospital, despite having really severe other symptoms that you would imagine at any other time would have resulted in them having to go to hospital… At the outset off the pandemic the 111-coronavirus service was outsourced to a number of companies and there was very, very limited training compared to the normal 111 service.”

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview. For more information, please contact Samantha Wathen, press officer for Keep Our NHS Public [email protected] or call/WhatsApp: 07776047472

Notes to editors

  1. Watch the session here:
  2. Keep Our NHS Public is a national independent organisation campaigning for a well-funded, publicly owned and provided NHS