Britain will hold a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID–19 pandemic next year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday (May 12).
“This process will place the state’s actions under the microscope,” he told parliament.
The inquiry will have the backing of legislation giving it far-reaching powers, Johnson said.
Johnson had previously agreed to hold an inquiry but resisted pressure from opposition parties to begin it while the government was still handling the crisis, saying it was more important to focus on that and the subsequent recovery plan.
But speaking in parliament, he said the inquiry would begin in spring 2022 once some of the worst pressures had subsided to avoid diverting resources from the crisis response. He warned of the risk of a resurgence of the virus.
He did not set out the terms of reference for the inquiry, or who would lead it, saying it was necessary to consult with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on those issues.
Lessons must be learned
Commenting on the announcement of the public inquiry, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health leaders agree there should be a public inquiry into the UK Governments’ handling of the Covid-19 crisis, with a clear timetable and process that this will follow, so that they understand how they can contribute to it.
“The pandemic has been the greatest challenge of our generation and we know already that lessons must be learned.
“Chronic understaffing, a lack of capital investment, poor pandemic preparedness, and failure to reform social care all meant the NHS faced challenges in relation to coronavirus through no fault of its own. But at all times, NHS teams and leaders have done everything within their power to be there for patients. Recently, the mass vaccination programme is a shining example of what the NHS and its people can achieve when given the autonomy and resource to deliver.
“While crucial for accountability and understanding, we cannot let the inquiry distract the UK Governments from supporting the NHS to address the difficulties it faces in the here and now, including an understaffed workforce, increased demand for mental health and long Covid services, and a waiting list for treatments, the size of which we have not seen in more than a decade.