The UK Covid-19 Inquiry is now officially under way and ‘can leave no stone unturned,’ the RCN has urged, ‘after too many incredible nursing staff had their lives cut brutally short.’
RCN’s general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: ‘The Covid-19 inquiry can leave no stone unturned. Too many incredible nursing staff had their lives cut brutally short and many others are living with the impact of the virus still today.
‘In the height of the pandemic, 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.’
The RCN has appointed Fenella Morris QC to advocate for nursing staff throughout the inquiry and is applying for ‘core participant’ status to ensure the voice of nursing is heard throughout, it said.
Ms Cullen said: ‘The Covid-19 inquiry must not just be about what ministers failed to do in the years before the pandemic, those early days or even the big moments of the last two years. It must look ahead to ensure nursing staff are never again left so unprotected.’
Baroness Heather Hallett, a former Court of Appeal judge, is chairing the inquiry and said she is ‘pleased’ to see all of the recommendations she made – stemming from public consultation which received more than 20,000 responses – are part of the final terms of reference.
Responding to the consultation, the RCN said it raised 34 points that ‘must be addressed as part of the inquiry,’ including ‘preparedness for the pandemic, the management of Covid-19 in different care settings, failures in workforce planning and the long-term effects on nursing staff’.
It also called for the inquiry to include the pandemic’s effect on minority ethnic groups, children and mental health, which now form part of the final terms.
The RCN said the Government’s draft terms had ‘key issues for nursing staff missing, particularly the unequal impact of Covid-19 and recognition of the disproportionately high number of ethnic minority nursing staff who have died during the pandemic’.
Baroness Hallett has promised to put ‘people who have suffered during the pandemic at the heart of the inquiry‘s work’, the inquiry said, and deliver any recommendations ‘as soon as possible’ by producing interim reports as, if they are adopted, ‘she hopes to reduce or prevent the suffering and hardship in any future pandemic’.
The inquiry team will travel around the UK ‘to ensure we hear from as many people as possible’, it said, and ‘Baroness Hallett will not tolerate any attempt to mislead the inquiry, to undermine its integrity or its independence’.
The inquiry said the terms of reference ‘set out the outline for the inquiry’, but Baroness Hallett will have ‘the discretion to explore issues in more depth as part of the inquiry’s scope’.
It said the team has already started to prepare for public evidential hearings in 2023 and is ‘working hard to meet an ambitious timetable,’ beginning the formal process of gathering and assessing evidence ‘very soon’.
In July, Baroness Hallett will set out her approach for the next stage of the inquiry’s work.
‘The inquiry also wants to hear from people across the UK, ensuring that those who have suffered have the opportunity to take part in the inquiry’s work’, it said. ‘We will begin a “listening exercise” in the autumn to enable people who wish to share their experience with the inquiry to do so’.
The terms of reference say the inquiry will:
- Consider any disparities evident in the impact of the pandemic on different categories of people
- Listen to and consider carefully the experiences of bereaved families and others who have suffered hardship or loss as a result of the pandemic
- Highlight where lessons identified from preparedness and the response to the pandemic may be applicable to other civil emergencies
- Have reasonable regard to relevant international comparisons
- Produce its reports, including interim reports, and any recommendations in a timely manner.
The aim of the inquiry, the terms say, is to ‘examine the Covid-19 response and the impact of the pandemic in the UK and produce a factual narrative account – including the public health response, the response of the health and care sector, and the economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including governmental interventions’.
The ultimate aim is to ‘identify the lessons to be learned, to inform preparations for future pandemics across the UK’, the terms say.