Recent figures show that Covid-19 is on the rise again – last week one in 50 persons in the UK were thought to have Covid-19 (an increase from one in 60 the week before).  The pandemic is far from over yet, but what is the position with the UK’s public inquiries into the outset of the pandemic? 

Scotland was first to announce its public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic back in February 2022, but hearings are yet to begin. However this Inquiry has had a rocky start as it was announced last week that the chair of the inquiry Lady Poole and three lawyers to the inquiry had resigned. 

Meanwhile the UK Covid-19 Inquiry published its terms of reference back in June.  This Inquiry will be a wide ranging statutory public investigation examining the preparedness and response to Covid-19 across all the UK, led by a senior judge Lady Hallett.  One of its specific three aims is to examine the health and care sector, including the management of the pandemic in care homes and other settings. 

This Inquiry held its first public hearing last week and it will deal with various matters over different modules.  The management of the pandemic in care homes and other social care settings will be dealt with in the second module.  The Inquiry will firstly examine how prepare we were for the pandemic, which will encompass consideration of factors such as health inequalities and political decision making. 

The first area of consideration will have implications for the social care sector.  For example, the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed in May 2020 that a “protective ring” was thrown around care homes, but that claim was later subject to dispute.  It will be interesting to see what comes out of these hearings and how much the social care sector was really a focus for the government’s decision making.  Were elderly and/or vulnerable care home residents treated equally when key decisions were made at the outset?

Both Inquiries have however been criticised by families of victims.  The Scottish Inquiry has so far not confirmed any basic information such as the structure of the inquiry and who will be the core participants.  This has left families frustrated and angry.  Meanwhile the UK Covid-19 Inquiry will not hear direct evidence from families, but rather only undertake a “listening exercise” from a cross section of the UK population.   Other public high-profile enquiries such as the Grenfell Tower fire Inquiry have heard testimonies from families of victims.  Given the high numbers of victims of Covid-19, Lady Hallett has stated that the Inquiry could drag on for decades if direct evidence was heard.   We anticipate that both Inquiries will need to carefully manage the expectations and participation of families of victims.  If the families feel excluded from the public investigation of the pandemic, then this could lead to a sense of injustice and resentment, then this could have a knock-on effect on the civil claims market particularly when we are nearing the three year primary limitation for claims.