Ministers should face charges of “misconduct in public office” over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an unofficial inquiry has said.
The People’s Covid inquiry, set up by campaign group Keep Our NHS Public and chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, said there had been “serious governance failures” at Westminster that contributed to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths.
The inquiry, which heard evidence from earlier this year, said the government had failed to protect key sections of the population who were at increased risk, and recommendations from previous pandemic planning exercises had been disregarded.
Consideration should be given to bringing charges of misconduct in public office, given the available evidence of failures and the serious consequences for the public, it added.
Responding to the report, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“This report makes clear that the NHS went into this pandemic woefully underprepared and under resourced, and the only reason the health service was able to provide care and services at the level it did was because of the unwavering dedication of frontline workers who gave their all – including their lives.
“It is clear that the Government failed to properly plan for a pandemic, with the disastrous lack of PPE supplies leading to an inability to protect frontline staff being exposed to the virus without adequate protection
“Brutal cuts to public health services in their hundreds of millions over the last decade left the UK without adequate testing capacity resulting in the outsourcing of test and trace operations. This wasted £37 billion of taxpayers’ money on an ineffective system that failed to identify the spread of the virus.
“The severe workforce shortages at the beginning of the pandemic, with 100,000 vacancies, coupled with fewer beds and a lack of surge capacity, led to the suspension of non-Covid care services in the first wave as healthcare workers battled to tackle this novel virus. This resulted in a record backlog of care, with excess non-Covid deaths last year estimated at 12,000, and the untold suffering of millions of patients.
“This should have been a wake-up call to the Government, but instead ministers continued to deliver incoherent public health messages, they dithered and delayed when it came to decisions about how to control infection spread, and they ignored expert clinical advice.
“More than 144,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the UK since the start of the pandemic, and that death toll continues to rise, albeit more slowly. But we still have to understand why so many lost their lives, what mistakes were made, and even more importantly, how to prevent them from happening again.
“This review, along with yesterday’s Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice report, should compel the Government into taking action and beginning the full statutory public inquiry, today, not next Spring, in order to act on lessons learnt now and avoid further needless deaths and an unimaginable impact on the NHS.”