Calls increase for public inquiry into coronavirus to begin sooner following Dominic Cummings evidence
Unions and MPs have joined urgent calls to bring forward their independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic to this year, accusing the UK Government of ducking scrutiny by waiting until 2022.
Labour has said the inquiry must begin this summer, as UNISON – the union that represents thousands of care workers – the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group, the Royal College of Nurses and a cross-party group of MPs investigating coronavirus united in saying it needs to begin as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister recently announced that an independent inquiry will take place in 2022, and health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that date won’t change.
This follows the explosive evidence given by Dominic Cummings earlier this week to a joint hearing of the Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee at Westminster.
Cummings, who served as Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser until last December, said mistakes by government led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, and the inquiry should not be delayed.
There were also dramatic claims that the health secretary lied about the level of protection for care home residents.
Families of those killed by COVID worry that waiting until next year to begin the inquiry will in the meantime shift the focus to political infighting rather than addressing what caused the UK's catastrophic death toll.
“The way things have been handled over the last few days has just turned things into a spectacle where it’s Johnson Vs Cummings, Cummings Vs Hancock," a spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved families told Holyrood’s sister site PoliticsHome.
"It’s such an inappropriate way to discuss the deaths of 150,000 people.
“People are going through the day-to-day trauma of losing loved ones, then having to hear this.
“By pushing it to 2022 there will be so much more of this, and more leaks, and more messages and tweets and it’s all an undignified process.
“Delaying it just won’t be respectful to the families.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, which has members from the Conservatives, the SNP, Labour and Plaid Cymru, said that both Johnson and Hancock were ducking scrutiny over the “errors that happened under their watch” and should hold the inquiry as soon as possible.
She said there is an “urgent need” for a public inquiry that is “genuinely independent” and that has full access to the relevant communications between ministers and civil servants.
“Ministers must not use the vaccine rollout as a smokescreen to avoid answering difficult questions about their handling of the pandemic.
“People deserve answers over what led to the catastrophic death toll and what is being done to ensure this does not happen again,” she said.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Launching the public inquiry next spring is way too late. It must begin while experiences are still fresh in everyone's minds.
“The government owes answers to the workers, the public and the families of those who have lost their lives.
“The sooner a public inquiry can start gathering evidence, the better prepared the UK will be for the future. And that's in everyone's best interests.”