Boris Johnson has announced the launch of the coronavirus public inquiry and set out its terms of reference, days after bereaved families warned they could take legal action against the Government over delays.
“The UK inquiry into Covid-19 is now formally established and able to begin its important work,” the Prime Minister said in a written statement on Tuesday.
“The Inquiry will examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, up to and including the Inquiry’s formal setting-up date, 28 June 2022.”
It comes more than six months after Mr Johnson appointed Baroness Hallett to chair the probe in December 2021, and after he previously said the inquiry would start in spring this year.
On Sunday, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group threatened to bring a judicial review over the failure to provide a setting up date for the inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Following Tuesday’s launch, the campaign’s spokesperson Hannah Brady said: “Finally we can begin the process of learning lessons from the awful suffering we’ve endured…
“However it is pitiful that after six months of inexplicable delays, the Government has finally decided to act just two days after we announced that we were considering a judicial review over their time wasting.
“It goes to show that they were simply delaying the process for as long as they could get away with, and there are going to have to be serious consequences if valuable evidence has been lost as a result.
“Baroness Hallett is now going to have to get the process moving as quickly as possible so that lessons can be learned ahead of future waves.”
Mr Johnson said he accepted Baroness Hallett’s changes to the Government’s draft terms of reference for the inquiry “in full”, and proposed to appoint two additional panel members in the coming months so that the probe “has access to the full range of expertise needed”.
The inquiry’s aims include to consider any disparities in the impact of Covid on different categories of people, consider the experiences of bereaved families, highlight where lessons from the pandemic may be applicable to other civil emergencies, and to produce any recommendations “in a timely manner”.
Baroness Hallett said: “I am pleased to see all of my recommendations accepted by the Prime Minister and included in the final Terms of Reference. The Terms of Reference set the broad outline of the Inquiry.
“My team and I are ready to begin the Inquiry’s work at speed and in earnest. The Inquiry will be run independently, fairly and openly, and those who have suffered significantly during the pandemic will be at the heart of the Inquiry’s work.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, chair of the all party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: “While we welcome that the Inquiry and now the Prime Minister have accepted important recommendations made by our APPG including the use international comparisons and the inclusion of Long Covid, the omission of one vital element risks damaging public trust in the entire process.
“With one of the highest death tolls and deepest recessions, with repeated mistakes and millions in contracts unlawfully awarded, the Inquiry must publish interim findings before the next general election to ensure lessons are learned and those responsible are held to account.”
The Royal College of Nursing said the probe must ensure nursing staff are never again left so unprotected after many died during the pandemic.
RCN chief executive Pat Cullen said: “The guidance was confusing. The testing was inadequate. The PPE was missing or poor. The consequences were fatal.
“Nursing staff were let down by ministers throughout the pandemic. The RCN will seek to represent justice to everybody’s experience these last two years”.
Labour MP Fleur Anderson tweeted: “It has taken far too long to get to this stage and the delay has been a clear attempt to avoid scrutiny of the Prime Minister’s failings before the next General Election.
“Oral hearings must start soon, and interim reports published in this Parliament.”