Why we held a People’s Covid Inquiry

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Dr Jacky Davis is a founding member of Keep Our NHS Public and has been serving as a member of our People’s Covid Inquiry panel since it started in March 2021. Here, she looks over why we launched the Inquiry in the first place. This speech was delivered to a Zero Covid meeting on 25 April 2021.

Executive editor of the BMJ Dr Kamran Abbasi wrote earlier this year that: ‘At the very least the Government’s response to COVID-19 might be classified as ‘social murder’.

When he wrote those words in the BMJ in February 2021, just five nations were responsible for over half the COVID-19 deaths in the world. The UK with over 100,000 deaths was one of them.

Abbasi asked whether allowing tens of thousands of deaths in pursuit of ‘herd immunity’ or in the hope of propping up the economy is not premeditated and reckless indifference to human life? If poor decisions by Government, such as delayed lock downs, lead to excess deaths, then who is responsible?

Who is to blame when politicians ignore scientific advice, their own pandemic planning, international warnings and indeed history itself? The reckless behaviour of this government he argues has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Should they be classified as murder?

Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) started our campaign to save the NHS from privatisation in 2005 under a Labour Government because we were alarmed about what was happening to the NHS under Tony Blair’s premiership. We have never been able to stop campaigning since then.

The danger to the NHS increased with Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Act in 2012, and the imposition of ‘austerity’ on public services introduced a further threat. The result was cuts and closures and staff shortages in the NHS. The NHS is never safe from politicians but the last ten years of Tory misrule have been devastating. The need for our campaign has never been greater than it is now.

Incompetence, corruption and cronyism

It became clear early on in the pandemic that the Government did not have a grip on events. They dithered and delayed, they put off the lock down until the 20 March so that the Cheltenham racing festival could take place; no coincidence that Matt Hancock is MP for Newmarket and thus close to the racing community, from whom he receives financial support.

Johnson was AWOL for weeks during the critical period in the spring of 2020. He missed the first five Cobra meetings held to discuss the threat posed by COVID-19, something no other Prime Minister ever dared to do. He was too busy finalising his divorce and finishing a book for which he had received half a million pound advance, which would have needed to be paid back if he had not delivered it to publishers by April. So, rumour has it, he hunkered down to sort out his messy personal life and get the book finished during the critical weeks when he should have been paying attention to the rising concerns being expressed about the pandemic. One might conclude he was guilty of criminal negligence.

When it became apparent that the UK was outstanding only in the number of deaths we were recording, people began calling for a public inquiry. Johnson told them, ‘now is not the time’, which begs the question: if not now, when? He promised an inquiry at some time in the future, but, given his record, nobody is holding their breath. Meanwhile we have missed opportunities to learn lessons and history is being rewritten by the Government. For instance, we have recently heard Matt Hancock saying that there was never a shortage of PPE. Try telling that to the frontline workers who had none and were improvising with bin bags. And dying as a result.

People’s Covid Inquiry

KONP decided to set up our own inquiry and The People’s Covid Inquiry was launched in February this year. It consists of nine two hourly online sessions, each dedicated to a different aspect of the Government’s handling of the pandemic. The sessions are being chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, and consist of evidence from academic experts, frontline workers and patients. We have heard from Professor Sir Michael Marmot, famous for his work on the social determinants of health, Professor David King who set up independent Sage and Bereaved Families for Justice to name just a few. So far we are the only inquiry of any kind looking into the Government’s response to the pandemic and people have been queueing up to give evidence. The breadth of people supporting and taking part in our People’s Covid Inquiry has been heartening. Many are concerned that the Government, despite its assurances, will never allow such a wide reaching inquiry as the findings would be too embarrassing for them.

Final People’s Covid Inquiry session

There is one final session of the People’s Covid Inquiry to be held, where we will be reflecting on what we have heard, and what we have learnt over the past four months.

When we launched the Inquiry we set out to ‘learn lessons, save lives’ now, rather than years down the road. The devastating death toll of the second wave that continued to grow even in the first weeks of the Inquiry showed us we were right to do that.

Please join us for the ninth and final session of the People’s Covid Inquiry to ask what next for the UK, as the pandemic continues and we potentially face a third wave. Our witnesses will include:

Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist and statistical geneticist, senior lecturer in machine learning, Queen Mary University of London

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, National Education Union

Jean Adamson, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice

Stephen Cowan, leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council 

Please register via Zoom for the session taking place at 7pm on Wednesday 16 June 2021.

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