We need a Covid inquiry, and we need it now

The joint parliamentary committee report “Coronavirus, lessons learned to date” can be found here.

A good summary of the key findings  can be found here.

A more critical review: “Hard hitting” Covid reports fails to land a single punch can be found here.

Two comments from Owl:

We  urgently need to know the: who, what, where and when; and

The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt’s participation as one of the Chairs, given his responsibilities as a former Health Minister, was/is totally inappropriate.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary www.thetimes.co.uk

The findings of the joint select committee report into the government’s Covid response came as a surprise to no one, but to read the litany of monumental and tragic errors catalogued so clearly is still devastating.

We all remember watching in horror as desperate scenes unfolded in northern Italy last year and questions started to be asked as to why we weren’t locking down here. Instead, race meetings and European football fixtures went ahead. The pubs remained open.

We all heard the demands of the World Health Organisation to “test, test, test”, but here testing was abandoned in early March.

We were all angered as our brave NHS staff pleaded for PPE to replace the flimsy bin-bags they were forced to wear or visors and goggles they had to purchase from local DIY stores. Doctors said they were abandoned like lambs to the slaughter.

Most shameful of all was the failure to protect care homes. In the rush to free up hospital beds, the frail were quickly discharged without a test. The virus inevitably spread with an unforgiving ferocity. Boasts of a “protective ring” now ring sickeningly hollow.

The need to free up so many beds was a consequence of needing to find “surge” capacity in the NHS. But that in turn reflects a cold reality: that for ten years the Tories have run the NHS into the ground. The deepest financial squeeze in NHS history, cuts to 15,000 beds and shortages of 40,000 nurses meant we entered the pandemic desperately unprepared.

The reality is that the NHS and social care sector needed protecting even before the pandemic hit.

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The running down of our health service, social care and public health capacity meant that ministers were slow in their eventual response. As the virus began to spread rapidly in the UK, Boris Johnson took an approach that differed from almost every country around the world; he kept society open for longer, favouring herd immunity.

Government officials — experts in “nudge theory” — were sent out to tour TV studios extolling the virtues of allowing the virus to rip through the strong while the weak “cocoon”.

Nadine Dorries tweeted videos of a bucket overflowing with water to explain the approach. Inside government, figures joked of mass “chicken-pox parties”. Meanwhile, our dedicated public health medical experts (none of whom had a seat on Sage) looked on aghast.

The line being taken by uncomfortable Tory ministers is to say that this is all passing judgment with hindsight. But Labour raised questions with the approach throughout March 2020.

As country after country closed its borders or introduced testing of people returning home, in public statements we asked why the prime minister had not done the same. We demanded mass testing and contact tracing to be protected, and support for people to isolate when sick — a demand to this day still not fully met.

Highlighting the monumental scale of the failures experienced at the start of the pandemic is not being done for political point-scoring. It is crucial that the mistakes from the pandemic are learnt, to ensure that catastrophic failures on this scale never happen again.

This means starting a public inquiry now. There is no reason to wait.

But it also means preparing for the coming winter. As case rates remain high, we need proper ventilation for businesses and schools. We need the rollout of vaccinations for children to be sped up, and we need to target the areas that have the lowest vaccination rates to drive up the number of people being jabbed.

Our NHS too must be given support this winter. Today, the Royal College of Physicians has issued a stark warning about hospitals’ ability to cope with winter. No doctor should be forced to make a choice between Covid care and cancer care. But without a proper plan to keep infections down and reduce the pressures on hospitals this winter, it is likely that once again our NHS will be faced with this difficult choice.

Covid has not gone away. We can learn to live with the virus, but that is not the same as pretending that it no longer exists.

The lessons from this report must be that ministers keep on top of the virus — and that preparing for a pandemic can never come too soon.

One thought on “We need a Covid inquiry, and we need it now

  1. I really enjoy East Devon Watch, but please could it be in darker type – I find the grey print really hard to read. I have mentioned this before and was told it was up to the designer, so please could you mention it to him or her. Thank you. Best wishes, Liz Rhodes

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