Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Public inquiry into UK’s response to covid-19

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 22 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2052

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The UK’s public health response to covid-19

Rapid Response:

COVID-19: Call for a rapid forward looking review of the UK’s preparedness for a second wave

Open letter to the leaders of all UK political parties

Dear Leaders of UK political parties,

Several countries are now experiencing COVID-19 flare-ups. While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain. The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.

You may have seen the recent BMJ editorial calling for a transparent rapid review of where we are and what needs to be done to prevent and prepare for a second wave ( We believe that such a review is crucial and needs to happen soon if the public is to have confidence that the virus can be contained.

The review should not be about looking back or attributing blame. Rather it should be a rapid and forward-looking assessment of national preparedness, based on an examination of the complex and interrelated policy areas listed below . These are too broad for any one of the existing select committees. That is why a cross-party commission was suggested, establishing a constructive, non-partisan, four nations approach that could rapidly produce practical recommendations for action, based on what we have all learnt, and without itself becoming a distraction for those at the front line, or in government. These recommendations should not require primary legislation or major organisational change. The approach would also help the public understand how and by whom they will be implemented. We believe this will be essential if the UK is to get ahead of the curve.

We are aware of YouGov polls showing that a majority of the public now support an ‘Inquiry’. We also know that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care have received a petition from the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, requesting a full public inquiry. The group have also called for an urgent interim inquiry, which shares the same fundamental approach and objective as our suggested rapid review: that it should be forward-looking, practical, responsive to what the public at large want to see happen, and focussed on evaluating national preparedness in the lead up to winter, with the aim of saving lives.

We are not wedded to any particular design of inquiry or review, but as outlined in the editorial, we believe it should be quick, broad, ambitious, able to command widespread public and stakeholder trust, and needs to happen now. It should focus on those areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life and restore the economy as fully and as quickly as possible. We believe the list below includes those areas.

As stakeholders and leaders of the UK’s medical, nursing and public health professions, we urge you to establish such a review. We think there’s a strong case for an immediate assessment of national preparedness, with the first results available no later than August, and that all its work should be completed by the end of October. We don’t underestimate the complexities of establishing this in the required timeframe. We stand by ready to help in whatever way we can.


Lord Victor Adebowale

Derek Alderson, President, Royal College of Surgeons

Wendy Burn, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Jeanette Dickson, President, Royal College of Radiologists

Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, The BMJ

Andrew Goddard, President, Royal College of Physicians

Michael Griffin, President, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Katherine Henderson, President, Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Richard Horton, Editor in Chief, The Lancet

Martin Marshall, President, Royal College of General Practitioners

Jo Martin, President, Royal College of Pathologists

Edward Morris, President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of Council, BMA

Maggie Rae, President, Faculty of Public Health

Anne Marie Rafferty, President, Royal College of Nursing

Jackie Taylor, President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

Conflicts of interest: None declared

Corresponding author: Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, The BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

Policy areas needing rapid attention:

Governance including parliamentary scrutiny and involvement of regional and local structures and leaders

Procurement of goods and services

Coordination of existing structures, in a way designed to optimise the establishment of effective public health and communicable disease control infrastructure, the resilience of the NHS as a whole, and the shielding of vulnerable individuals and communities

The disproportionate burden on BAME individuals and communities

International collaboration especially to mitigate any new difficulties in pandemic management due to Brexit


Competing interests: No competing interests

23 June 2020
Fiona Godlee
Editor in Chief, The BMJ
Lord Victor Adebowale, Derek Alderson (President, Royal College of Surgeons), Wendy Burn (President, Royal College of Psychiatrists), Jeanette Dickson (President, Royal College of Radiologists), Andrew Goddard (President, Royal College of Physicians), Michael Griffin (President, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh), Katherine Henderson (President, Royal College of Emergency Medicine), Richard Horton (Editor in Chief, The Lancet), Martin Marshall (President, Royal College of General Practitioners), Jo Martin (President, Royal College of Pathologists), Edward Morris (President, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists), Chaand Nagpaul (Chairman of Council, BMA), Maggie Rae (President, Faculty of Public Health), Anne Marie Rafferty (President, Royal College of Nursing), Jackie Taylor (President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow)