The COVID- 19 Inquiry; now open and inviting applications
As Chair, Baroness Hallett expressed her determination to “run the Inquiry as thoroughly and as efficiently as possible” and “to undertake and conclude the work of this Inquiry as speedily as possible so that lessons are learned before another pandemic strikes.” While recognising the need for the inquiry process to be “rigorous and fair”, she also made clear that with such a wide scope she will need to be “ruthless".
The Inquiry’s approach - modules
As expected, the Inquiry will be taking a modular approach to its work - modules will be announced and opened in sequence, with those wishing to take a formal role in the Inquiry invited to apply to become core participants for specific modules. Module 1 is now open, and will consider the extent to which the risk of a Coronavirus pandemic was properly identified and planned for, and whether the UK was ready for that eventuality. The Inquiry plans to hold the first preliminary hearing in this module in September, with the full public hearings starting in Spring next year.
Module 2 will be split into parts. The first part will look at core political and administrative governance and decision-making for the UK. It will cover the initial UK response to the COVID-19 pandemic and address central Government decision-making, including political and civil service performance and the effectiveness of relationships with devolved governments, local authorities and voluntary/community sectors. It will look at the decision-making for non-pharmaceutical interventions (i.e. lockdowns and all the other restrictions and requirements), as well as the use of scientific expertise, data collection and modelling, government and public health communications, including behavioural science, messaging and the maintenance of confidence and Parliamentary oversight and regulatory control.
Module 3 will examine the impact of COVID-19, and of the governmental and societal responses to it, on healthcare systems generally and on patients, hospital and other healthcare workers and staff. Among other issues, it will investigate healthcare systems and governance, hospitals, primary care (including GPs and dentists), the impact on NHS backlogs and non-Covid treatment, the effects on healthcare provision of vaccination programmes and Long-Covid diagnosis and support.
These are just the first modules that the Inquiry will investigate; it will publish more information about the later modules in coming months. Very broadly, these are likely to cover both ‘system’ and ‘impact’ issues across the UK, including: vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatment across the UK, the care sector, Government procurement and PPE, testing and tracing, Government business and financial responses across the UK and impact on business sectors, health inequalities and the impact of COVID-19, education and children and young persons and the impact of COVID-19 on public services and on other public sectors. The Chair has repeated her promise that when investigating all these issues, inequalities will be at the forefront of the Inquiry’s investigations.
The Chair’s approach – robust but streamlined
In opening the Inquiry, Baroness Hallett called out her power to obtain evidence from across the four nations of the UK and to compel the production of documents and appearance of witnesses, while making her expectations clear regarding the provision of evidence to the Inquiry, stating she “will not hesitate to make [her] views clear about any person or organisation who stands in the way of the Inquiry performing its task”. She also expressed a determination to ensure that the Inquiry has access to the evidence it needs and has the time to analyse that evidence properly before witnesses appear in front of it. This approach has been welcomed by the Solicitor leading the legal team representing the bereaved who has said:
“We are pleased that the Chair has once again stressed the importance of all the evidence being available to the inquiry. It is of fundamental importance that we have access to all relevant documents and that the government offers full disclosure to the inquiry. The bereaved would regard anything less than full disclosure as a coverup. What we and the families need is for an open and transparent process to ensure accountability and that the inquiry highlights the lessons that need to be learned".
The Chair has also signalled a robust approach to the implementation of the Inquiry’s recommendations, stating “where I make recommendations to people or organisations, I expect them to consider and respond to them quickly, to ensure that the UK is as well prepared as it can be to respond to the next pandemic and to protect the lives of its people. The Inquiry will monitor implementation of the recommendations it makes during its lifetime”.
As part of her commitment to streamlining the process, the Chair has also confirmed she will be appointing expert groups to create joint reports, and has invited applicants to group themselves together with others with a similar interest, wherever possible, to help manage the potentially large number of people and organisations seeking core participant status.
The application process for those who wish to be granted Core Participant status in Module 1 is now open. The deadline for applications will be 16 August, so now is the time for those considering an application to start compiling it, in collaboration with other suitable parties where possible bearing in mind the Chair’s request for joint applicants.
Look out for our upcoming articles on Module 1, the Inquiry’s approach to core participants and legal representation, funding and experts.
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