There is a growing call in England and Wales for a Public Inquiry in relation to the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. You can read more about this here, where relatives of those who have tragically died as a result of the virus have serious concerns that deaths may have been preventable.
The focus of the calls for an Inquiry revolve around the following key issues:
O’Reilly Stewart have already posted here in respect of the concern that elderly patients diagnosed with Covid-19 were discharged from hospital back to the Care Homes where they resided. Many care homes were simply not equipped for this and Covid-19 infections were able to spread throughout the homes. While other countries had considered this clear risk, it appears clear that the UK did not, which is almost certain to have led to a significant amount of preventable deaths. While individual deaths can be considered by way of a Coroner’s Inquest if necessary, a Public Inquiry is better able to deal with broader issues of government policy and whether appropriate steps were taken across the board to deal with the risk of infections in care homes.
Timing of Lockdown
It is well recognised that the UK was slower to announce lockdown measures than other European countries. The media report above makes it clear that some relatives of Covid-19 victims feel the decision came too late and led to deaths that may have been preventable. Again, while an Inquest is well placed to consider factors that contributed to an individual death, a Public Inquiry is better placed to consider the overall timing of the lockdown.
Any Public Inquiry will consider the level of testing that has been implemented in the UK, and whether a more effective system of testing and tracing should have been implemented.
While of course the response to the Coronavirus pandemic is ongoing and we are far from out of the woods, it is important that the key issues are considered at an early stage so that in the unfortunate event there is a further outbreak in future, we will be better placed to respond to it. While Northern Ireland has had a proportionately better outcome than England and Wales so far in terms of the levels of infection, it is important that lessons are learned across the board so that we are all fully aware of the weaknesses in the response to this pandemic. A Public Inquiry is the best means to achieve that.
O’Reilly Stewart’s Healthcare Team have significant experience dealing with healthcare inquests as well as public inquiries relating to healthcare issues in Northern Ireland.