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People's Covid Inquiry.

People's Covid Inquiry. Photo: Keep our NHS public

Britain has the worst Covid-19 death rate per capita in the world. And the public deserves to know how and why this has happened, argues Tom Lock Griffiths

Keep Our NHS Public urges you all to get involved, tells us your stories and attend the online sessions.

People’s Covid Inquiry

The concept of a People's Tribunal / Commission is not new and has a venerable past. A permanent international example was established in Bologna in 1979 at the founding of the Permanent People’s Tribunal and significant campaigns both at local, national and international level have employed them to great effect. For example, South London’s Lewisham Hospital was saved by a ‘People’s Commission’, and people led inquiries have been called about a wide range of issues including Hillsborough, Grenfell and many more.

That’s why campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, who’s members cut their teeth in Lewisham and in several other inquiries often with great success, has called a People’s Covid Inquiry to learn lessons and save lives now. But why now?

The scale of deaths is overwhelming

At the time of writing there are 112,000 deaths in Britain from Covid-19 since the crisis began. When factoring in excess deaths, caused by a combination of factors including deaths likely caused by the virus but not recorded as such, and deaths caused indirectly by the pandemic, such as delayed life-saving operations, and untreated illness due to our health service being under such strain, mean the cases are much higher.

To put this in perspective, in South Korea a country whose population is around 52 million (as opposed to Britain’s 67 million) has only 1,474 recorded Covid-19 deaths. This makes it clear that it didn’t need to be this way.

And yet in a press conference 26 January 2021 Prime Minister Boris Johnson said,

‘What I can tell you is that we truly did everything we could, and continue to do everything that we can, to minimise loss of life and to minimise suffering in what has been a very, very difficult stage, and a very, very difficult crisis for our country, and we will continue to do that’

So, what happened?

Controversy remains over which strategies are best at controlling the pandemic. Arguments rage about virus suppression versus virus elimination (Herd Immunity vs Zero Covid). Key issues like safety in schools and workplaces, and even in our homes - as we saw over the debacle of the Government’s advice to families over Christmas, are still debated in the media. And disagreements over the use of face masks and the risk/benefits of ‘lockdowns’ are hotly contested by experts and non-expert alike on social media and in the press.

All of this noise however cannot disguise the brutal truth of the numbers of dead, and the undeniable evidence that other countries have done better.

The Government hopes to avoid responsibility

What these debates conceal, or at least attempt to, is the attempts by the Government to hide its failure both to protect human life, and even on its own terms, to protect the economy. According to research done by the TUC,

‘The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the UK particularly hard in comparison to international counterparts. Latest figures for quarter three (July – Sept) show the UK economy is still 9.7 per cent below its pre pandemic levels, more than double the decline seen in the US and the EU. In quarter two (Apr – June) the UK decline of 20.4 per cent was steepest of all comparable countries and double the OECD average of 9.9 per cent. Over the first half of the year the UK was second worst (to Spain) of all OECD countries. 

Further, the most recent monthly GDP figures showed the UK ‘bounce back’ was continuing to slow even before further lockdown restrictions were announced, with monthly growth of only 1.1 per cent into September.’

They can’t hide

The Government’s latest attempts to dodge its failures take two different approaches, firstly that the new strain of the virus is vastly more transmissible than its counterparts in other countries, and second that the crisis will be over soon due to overwhelming success of its vaccination program.

Firstly, while there does seem to be evidence that there is a strain the UK that is more infectious, the research is still at early stages, and still doesn’t change the fact the death toll was already high back in November 2020, which was caused by bungled lockdown restrictions, mixed messaging and incompetency that preceded the new strain’s arrival.

The truth is that cases were visibly rising. For a example, schools in Greenwich in South London were threatened with legal action in December by the DfE if they tried to close, despite pleas that staff and students were both falling like flies to the virus and schools couldn’t remain safely open.

We didn’t need the science to explain the transmission rates, the lived experience of ordinary people was enough. And the Government ignored it.

Secondly, despite the vaccine, the science tells us that the pandemic will not end overnight and it will still require, effective test, trace and isolate systems, which the government has so far failed to put in place. This is particularly damning especially in the context of the shocking cronyism that has seen the Government spend almost £2 billion on “crony contracts” with Tory donors and friends during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson made non-committal statements about an independent inquiry back in July 2020, but there is no move on the Government’s part to set one up anytime soon. And the Conservative party certainly won’t stand for one happening before the next general election.

But thousands of people are still dying, and ordinary people can see that there’s a huge gap between the good news stories coming from Government about the vaccine, and the reality of the situation on the ground. That’s why we need answers now.

The People’s Covid Inquiry will provide a powerful body of work which will help us understand how best to restore the NHS, public health and social care to the quality public services essential to look after people and keep them safe, both now and in the future. In the process we will be holding the Government to account for its failures and generating key political demands backed up by solid evidence, to fuel our campaigns over the next months and years. To do so, the inquiry will be inviting a huge array of different evidence which will be scrutinised by our panel.

The panel of the inquiry will be headed by internationally renowned human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, and include Professor Neena Modi and Keep Our NHS Public’s Dr Jacky Davis (author of NHS for Sale and other books in the NHS).

The Inquiry will be inviting our many contributors to either provide expert testimony, powerful personal stories or to assist the panel in their interrogation of the evidence.

So far, the names attached to the initiative exemplify the huge support for the inquiry from across civil society. Some of the additional contributors include,

Dr Phil Hammond, NHS doctor and journalist

Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party of England and Wales 

Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet

Sir David King, Chair of Independent SAGE

Michael Rosen, COVID-19 survivor and former Children's Laureate 

Dr Sonia Adesara, NHS junior doctor and Keep Our NHS Public member

Dr Jacky Davis, NHS Consultant Radiologist and Co-founder of Keep Our NHS Public

Alia Butt, NHS Psychotherapist and founder of NHS Staff Voices

Lindsey German, Co-founder of The People's Assembly Against Austerity

Dr Louise Irvine, NHS GP and Keep Our NHS Public Executive Committee member

Rachel Harrison, GMB Union Public Services National Officer

Cat Hobbs, We Own It

John Lister, Health Campaigns Together

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union

Caroline Molloy, Editor of OpenDemocracy UK

Dr Latifa Patel, NHS doctor and BMA representative body deputy chair

Professor Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology, UCL, member of Independent SAGE

Unjum Mirza, tube driver and ASLEF Union branch chair

Ellen Clifford, National Steering Committee of Disabled People Against Cuts

Salma Yaqoob, NHS community engagement lead Birmingham and Solihull 

Emeritus Professor Raymond Agius, retired professor in occupational and environmental health

Holly Turner RN, NHS nurse and GMB rep and many more.

There will also be eight sessions held at fortnightly intervals. which will cover one of the following themes:​

The first session will be on Wednesday 24 February. To find out more and book for the first session see here. To find out more about the inquiry go to www.peoplescovidinquiry.com

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