The long-awaited statutory inquiry into Boris Johnson’s government’s handling of the Covid pandemic is expected to begin next month. I has learned.
While the public hearings of the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry are not due to start until next year, its leader, Baroness Hallett, is ready to officially start work once the Prime Minister has approved her request to update the terms of reference.
Downing Street sources said that reply would likely come in June – meaning work could start as early as this week.
In the first phase behind closed doors, Lady Hallett and her team will meticulously gather evidence covering months of the pandemic, including lockdown restrictions and the government’s preparedness and response.
After several weeks of consulting with bereaved families, the public and representatives from the NHS and public health, government and industry, Lady Hallett wrote to Mr Johnson this month proposing that the terms of reference be reformulated to address inequality in the to be the focus of the investigation.
She also called for the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health and education – including the closure of schools – and the response of NHS services 111 and 999 to be included in the framework.
While Mr Johnson is required to approve the re-worded job descriptions, Lady Hallett has urged him to “agree fully” with them.
The inquiry will also examine the response from ministers and scientific advisers, the procurement and supply of PPE for frontline health and care workers and the controversial policy of transferring patients from hospitals to care homes at the start of the pandemic.
It will gather evidence on the strategy and impact of lockdown restrictions and collaboration between centralized and decentralized governments.
Mr Johnson, key ministers including then Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the government’s top experts Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance are expected to be called on to testify at next year’s public hearings.
Once the Prime Minister responds to the new mandate, Lady Hallett and her investigative team will begin their work behind closed doors.
In a statement this month, the investigative team said it hoped “the Prime Minister will accept the recommended changes quickly and in full so that the inquiry can begin its formal work”.
In her letter to Mr Johnson, Lady Hallett said: “During the four week consultation I held meetings with over 150 bereaved families and organizations representing different sectors in cities across the UK.
“I’ve heard firsthand the importance of a thorough inquiry into how the UK is handling the coronavirus pandemic. This process provided me with an informative and constructive critique of the draft task statement.
“It showed people’s passion for being part of the investigation and their desire to work with me to ensure valuable lessons are learned.”