The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that there will be an independent public inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The inquiry is expected to commence in the Spring of next year and whilst the terms of reference are yet to be announced,Mr Johnson has stated that it will “identify the key issues that will make a difference for the future".
As to what those key issues will be, it is anticipated that at the very least they will include:
(1) How the risks of such a pandemic were identified and managed in terms of national and international monitoring and information sharing;
(2) The speed and efficacy of the government and public health response, particularly in respect of the timing and extent of lockdowns. There is also the well publicised issue surrounding the availability of PPE and the contracts awarded to those who were ultimately able to source the same;
(3) The National Health Service (NHS) response, including the preparedness to deal with such a pandemic in terms of not only the clinical care but capacity which is perhaps one of the most prevalent issues when one recalls the “Stay at Home”pleas to protect the NHS;
(4) An extension of the point above, an inquiry will also, almost certainly, need to consider the knock on effect of the NHS response on non Covid-19 patients. There have been many well publicised cases of people having elective and non-elective surgeries and treatments postponed or even cancelled;
(5) Beyond the front line NHS, it is anticipated that the public inquiry will need to consider the adult social care sector which faced considerable pressures in terms of supporting clients and their families and maintaining continuity of care, often with reduced resources including staff and available PPE;
(6) The justice system- how have police, lawyers and the courts responded to and coped with the increased pressures on the system caused by the pandemic;
(7) The education system, how prepared were any of us- parents or students- to deal with such a significant interruption to the education system. Moreover, how effective was the response in avoiding or, at least, minimising the long-term effect on students;
(8) The wider impact on society in general will also need to be considered and one would anticipate that considerable attention will be given to the economic impact of Covid-19 and how that has been dealt with by the government ranging from the furlough scheme to “eat out to help out” through to loan schemes which we have seen in the last few days were open to fraud and abuse.
The above points are inevitably only a snapshot of the potential scope of the public inquiry and we await further details in due course, including who will be asked to chair the inquiry. One thing we can be sure of is that it will not be a quick turnaround; there will be thousands if not hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and no doubt hundreds of potential witnesses including government ministers and officials, as well as, many professionals and perhaps most importantly families of those who have died during the pandemic.
As experienced regulatory lawyers who have been involved in some of the most high profile public inquiries heard in recent years including the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA); Grenfell and the Manchester Arena Inquiry, Markel Law will be on hand to provide advice and assistance to any of our clients, particularly those in the health and social care sector who we have continued to assist throughout the pandemic. Contact us to discuss this further.