Covid inquiry broadens scope to include children

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

Published
Image source, Getty Images

The scope of the UK public inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic has widened to include a focus on children.

When the draft terms were published in March, there was criticism that they failed to even mention the impact on children and young people.

But after a public consultation, the final terms have been published and now incorporate the effect on the health, wellbeing and education of children.

The inquiry's public hearings are not due to start until 2023.

They will be chaired by former High Court judge Baroness Hallett.

The final terms of reference were decided following a four-week public consultation on the draft terms.

As well as expanding the terms to include the impact on the health, wellbeing and education of children and young people, the inquiry will also look at the wider mental health impact across the population.

The focus on inequalities will also be strengthened, the inquiry said, so that the unequal impact on different sections of society will be considered at all stages.

Alongside these issues, the UK-wide inquiry will also look at the following issues which were included originally:

  • the UK's preparedness for the pandemic
  • the use of lockdowns and other "non-pharmaceutical" interventions, such as social distancing and the use of face coverings
  • the management of the pandemic in hospitals and care homes
  • the procurement and provision of equipment like personal protective equipment and ventilators
  • support for businesses and jobs, including the furlough scheme, as well as benefits and sick pay

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Baroness Hallett said: "I believe these changes will ensure the inquiry can best fulfil its purpose to examine the UK's preparedness and response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and learn lessons for the future."

It will now be up to Mr Johnson to agree to the terms of reference.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
A volunteer from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group paints a heart on the National Covid Memorial Wall opposite the Palace of Westminster in central London

In the UK, more than 176,000 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

A report published last week by the World Health Organization found the UK had seen just above average number of total excess deaths during the pandemic - in line with other Western European countries such as Spain, Italy and Germany.

Several reports have already put the UK government's handling of the pandemic under the spotlight.

Last October, a report by MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee said the UK's failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was one of the country's worst public health failures.

And a report by spending watchdog the National Audit Office last November found ministers were not properly prepared for a pandemic like Covid, and lacked detailed plans on shielding, job support schemes and school disruption.

The government said the unprecedented pandemic had challenged health systems around the world - not just in the UK.

The Scottish government has already published the terms of reference for its own Covid inquiry, to be led by Judge Lady Poole.

Anne Longfield, the former Children's Commissioner and Chair of the Commission Young Lives, said: "This a very welcome decision. It would have been appalling to airbrush children out of the Covid inquiry after the enormous sacrifices they made and the huge impact the pandemic had."