24 OCTOBER 2023
Dame Jackie Baillie, Lord Brailsford and Amer Anwar, solicitor for Scottish Covid Bereaved.
By Lucy Ashton
Dame Jackie Baillie is urging people from across Dumbarton, the Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond to give their views to Scotland’s Covid-19 Inquiry as it holds its first hearings.
As part of the Inquiry, Let’s Be Heard is seeking the views of people who were living in Scotland between 1st January 2020 and 31st December 2022 and who were affected by decisions relating to the pandemic made in Scotland during that time.
The project is keen to hear about what lessons should be learned and is asking for submissions to be made by 20th December 2023.
The Dumbarton constituency MSP wants to make sure people here, some of whom lost loved ones to covid; others who were separated from family members due to care home restrictions, and key workers who were on the frontline during the pandemic, get the chance to share their experiences.
Dame Jackie Baillie said: “The start of the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry marks an important step in learning lessons from the decisions which were made at the height of the pandemic and beyond.
“As the pandemic first emerged and since, I have been inundated with emails, letters and calls from people whose businesses were impacted, those struggling to access health services, people who couldn’t visit loved ones in care homes, frontline staff and some who were bereaved in heartbreaking circumstances.
“It is imperative that their opinions are heard and taken into account should we ever have to deal with a pandemic again.
“It is also vital that people working on the frontline in essential services throughout are able to share their experiences.
“The areas across my constituency were some of those worst affected by Covid with some of the harshest restrictions imposed here. Lessons have to be learned and people’s own testimonies are key to that.”
To share your experiences with the Covid-19 Inquiry, see https://lbh.covid19inquiry.scot
Paper copies of the submission form can also be requested by emailing LetsBeHeard@covid19inquiry.scot, or by leaving a voicemail at 0808 175 5555. People can also write to Freepost SCOTTISH COVID-19 INQUIRY.
Paper forms have also been distributed to GP surgeries, care homes, pharmacies, libraries and other community buildings across Scotland.
The first main evidence sessions of the public inquiry investigating Scotland’s response to the pandemic will take place over the coming weeks.
In all areas the inquiry will look at the impact of the pandemic first, before turning to how decisions to respond to the crisis were taken, and then how Covid policies were implemented.
What does the public inquiry cover?
The aim of Scotland’s Covid public inquiry is to establish the facts of what happened during the country’s response to the pandemic and work out what lessons can be learned for future public health emergencies.
The inquiry has been commissioned by the Scottish government but operates independently under chairman Lord Brailsford, who can demand evidence and compel witnesses to attend.
A total of 12 elements of Scotland’s pandemic handling will be examined.
For health and social care, this includes areas such as the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and how the virus was dealt with in care homes.
Financial support and guidance given to businesses and pandemic planning are among other areas to be addressed.
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry began last August and has already heard from a number of people involved in
How is it different to the UK Covid inquiry?
Scotland’s response to the pandemic – including the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
But its scope is much broader as it covers the impact of the pandemic and decisions taken by the UK government for the whole of the UK.
The Scottish inquiry is only investigating policy areas under the control of the Scottish government.
For example, the UK inquiry will investigate the decisions taken over which Covid vaccine supply strategy to pursue for the whole of the UK.
The Scottish inquiry does not cover which jabs were bought, but it will look at the design and delivery of the vaccination strategy as it fell to Scottish ministers to implement these decisions taken at a UK level.
The UK and Scottish inquiries have agreed, where possible, not to sit at the same time when they are considering material which is relevant to both to try and cut down on any confusion for the public.
What has happened in the Scottish inquiry so far?
The probe into Scotland’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was set up last February but has faced a number of delays including the resignation of the original chairwoman Lady Poole and four senior lawyers.
Elsewhere, the inquiry is trying to achieve its goal of giving priority to evidence from people most impacted by the pandemic through a major public consultation.
The Let’s Be Heard project aims to assess the impact Covid had on people or their loved ones and what lessons should be learned.
The inquiry – which has cost £8.94 million so far – has also commissioned research to aid its work.
In July, a report from medical epidemiologist Dr Ashley Croft on the accepted scientific and medical understanding of Covid was published – but Dr Croft’s background attracted criticism from campaigners.
What will the first round of impact hearings cover?
The inquiry, taking place in Edinburgh, will first hear from groups and individuals identified as “core participants”.
Core participants play key roles in public inquiries and are allowed to give statements and propose questions to be asked of witnesses.
Among those giving their opening statements on the pandemic’s impact on the NHS and social care are the Scottish government, Alzheimer’s Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing.
Campaigners taking part in this first phase include Long Covid Kids Scotland, Scottish Healthcare Workers’ Coalition, the Scottish Vaccine Injury Group and Refugees for Justice.
What do bereaved families want from the inquiry?
Families who lost loved ones in the Covid pandemic have been promised they will be “front and centre” of the public inquiry.
But some have been critical of the progress to date.
Scottish Covid Bereaved, a group of grieving families, has been critical of efforts to match the Scottish Inquiry with its UK equivalent.
One person who will be following the inquiry’s progress closely is Natasha Hamilton.
Natasha’s mum, Anne Duke, had early-onset dementia and lived in a care home but was cut off from her family for months at a time as a result of the Covid restrictions.
The 63-year-old died in November 2021 and Natasha is part of a campaign to ensure people living in care homes have the legal right to visits from a loved one even when restrictions are in place.
She told BBC Scotland News: “People in care homes are still living with the fear that they could be locked away from their families.
“What happened in care homes was wrong and it should have been made possible for them to have contact with their families.
“The care homes were put in a very difficult position, it is the people high up making the decisions, that is where my issue lies.”
Lawyer Aamer Anwar represents the Scottish Covid Bereaved and called for those appearing to be as truthful as possible.
“We ask that all the witnesses who appear at the inquiry speak with absolute candour and are brutally honest, as without that honesty we will never learn the vital lessons to ensure that when the next inevitable pandemic comes, we are able to save thousands of lives and avoid the unnecessary suffering endured by so many in the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
What happens next?
This first phase of impact hearings covering health and social care covers six days in October and November so far but further dates have still to be announced.
The other themes that will be explored later by the inquiry are education and young people, and then finance, business and welfare.
Inquiry bosses have said they will “adopt a flexible approach” to collecting evidence given the inevitable overlap between these different themes.
The UK Covid Inquiry will be sitting in Scotland in January of next year meaning the Scottish inquiry will not.
Instead, the next run of Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry hearings is expected to resume in February 2024.
There is no formal end date for the inquiry but it is thought likely to last until 2025.
At the end no-one is found guilty or innocent, but lessons learned and recommendations are published.
A decision on whether there will be interim inquiry reports has still to be taken.
Let’s Be Heard is the main way in which people can contribute to the Inquiry’s investigations and help inform its reports and recommendations.
Scottish Covid Inquiry: What is it investigating and how does it work? – BBC News
Dumbarton Covid: Infection rate remains one of highest in country | Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter (dumbartonreporter.co.uk)