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Governments should be made to work harder to keep public trust

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: (Published 10 June 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n1472

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Re: Governments should be made to work harder to keep public trust

Dear Editor,

The prime minister has committed to starting preparation for a public inquiry into the covid pandemic next year, and said this would be fully independent and have “the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public, under oath” (1). However, we completely agree with the calls for an immediate inquiry into the government management of the coronavirus pandemic without any further delay. The People’s Covid Inquiry (2,3) adds considerable weight to this demand having completed its 9th and final session on the 16th June. Testimony was heard from 41 witnesses including both international experts such as Prof. Sir Michael Marmot, Prof. Sir David King, Prof. Gabriel Scally, Prof. Martin McKee and a selection of citizen witnesses, giving evidence under the chairmanship of Michael Mansfield QC. All this is now available via the Inquiry website including filmed recordings of sessions, transcripts, etc. (3). While summary recommendations and a detailed report will be forthcoming over the coming months it is clear that basic public health measures are still urgently needed if community viral transmission is to be eliminated and further restrictions prevented (4). These should include effective border controls, continuation of mask wearing and social distancing, optimisation of ventilation in schools and workplaces, and adequate support for all those testing positive or asked to isolate (5). We stand together with ‘Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK’ and insist that there are important lessons to be learned now rather than after the next election when the practical implementation of any recommendations will be largely irrelevant. We note that the Al-Sweady Inquiry ran for five years, the Chilcot Inquiry almost seven, and the Saville Inquiry some 12 years to produce a final report. Such time scales are too slow to help shape the government’s response to the developing third wave of this pandemic, or to improve its ability to ensure further surges (for example from new variants) are avoided. An independent and judge-led statutory public inquiry with a swift interim review would yield lessons that can be applied immediately and help prevent further deaths (6). In the wake of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster on April 15, 1989, the Inquiry of Lord Justice Taylor delivered interim findings within 11 weeks, allowing life-saving measures to be introduced in stadiums ahead of the next football season. It can be done therefore, and surely this is the least that is owed to all those who have been bereaved.

Competing interests: We are co-chairs of Keep Our NHS Public

19 June 2021
John Puntis
Consultant Paediatrician
Tony O'Sullivan
6 The Avenue