Nathalie Hollingworth – 22 March 2021
Edinburgh, Monday 22 March – Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice today met Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to speak about their experiences, share their personal stories and discuss a future statutory public inquiry to which the First Minister committed, the the day before the UK’s National Day of Reflection.
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice is a group of nearly 3,000 families bereaved by Covid-19 who are campaigning for lessons to be learned as quickly as possible in order to save lives and prevent others from going through the same pain.
They are campaigning for a Statutory Public Inquiry with an initial rapid review phase, to inform the Government’s ongoing response to the pandemic and increased bereavement support services for those dealing with complex grief during the current period.
Members explained this evening that their group had written to Boris Johnson six times yet six times he has refused to meet them and although they felt genuinely heard and reassured by Scotland’s First Minister they want all four nations to take responsibility and hope that Sturgeon’s action compel the other leaders to also support their cause
In the meeting, the First Minister confirmed that there must be a statutory public inquiry into the pandemic and gave her “absolute assurance” that bereaved families will be involved in setting the terms of that inquiry and invited to give evidence.
During this evening’s press conference, bereaved families were given a voice and journalists asked further questions:
Alan Wightman, who lost his mother Helen to the virus in May 2020, said:
“As a group of bereaved families, we’re very grateful that the First Minister gave her time to meet with us today. Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that there will be a judge-led, statutory public inquiry into the pandemic and that bereaved families will be involved in setting the terms of that inquiry and invited to give evidence. That means a great deal to the thousands of us who have lost loved ones over the past year. If any good is to come out of this period, it’s that lessons are learned so that we can save lives in future.”
Jo Goodman, co-Founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said:
“It was good to meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today. Now it’s down to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do the right thing and meet with us. If he won’t, the least he can do is get the ball rolling on a statutory public inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic in order to learn lessons and save lives now and in the event of future pandemics.”
Responding to a question from a member of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, the First Minister said:
“You asked me about bereaved families being involved in the future public inquiry. I want to give you an absolute assurance that will be the case”.
Alan Whiteman spoke about losing his wife in a care home in Fife on 16 May 2020, aged 88. He said the home was very good and locked down early on 11 March 2020:
“I am sure that the [care home] was not sending in agency staff and they proactively purchased their own PPE. The care home was owned by a private company based in Colchester which takes local authority residents and they did everything that could be reasonably expected”.
Meeting Nicola Sturgeon was very positive for the group because she listened to them courteously and most importantly agreed to give them the statutory inquiry that they have longed for.
The First Minister said it would be a priority for her government and she would initially go for a four-nations approach but if this proves impossible, would commit to a Scottish inquiry anticipating that the group would be involved in framing the terms of reference for the enquiry. Sturgeon also supports a national day of remembrance and wants the group to be involved with designing local memorials UK-wide and committed Scotland to a further review of what can be done in terms of further bereavement support, claiming that she did not want this to be a one-off.
The consensus of the group was that Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment is very positive and just what they had hoped for but stressed that normal will not be as it was before.
“It was a positive meeting for all of us who have lost loved ones and it is nice that we are being treated as names and not numbers. It important that bereaved people have their stories heard and we appreciate the time that was taken by Scotland’s First Minister which stands in stark contrast to Westminster’s attitude: each time we have written to Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, we have been ignored or refused a meeting so it was good to hear members being listened to and we are still pushing for Westminster to commit to a UK-wide pubic inquiry.”
“my father died in Stirling last year and my questions to the First Minister were: why didn’t testing happen earlier, why were untested patients sent into care homes to keep the NHS freed-up, why was there a lack of understanding, training and infection control and why did the government fail to make the distinction between care-homes and nursing-homes which is important because there are no nurses in care homes so what sort of care can occur there. Why were there no inspections, no GP visits, no relatives going to check: where were the checks and balances. Even the NHS 101 staff were unhelpful as care-home managers were told hospitals would not take care-home residents. I want to know why care home residents were being given less care than people residing in their own homes when care home residents have paid for their public services all their lives and hospitals were sitting with a lot of capacity – why were they not let in?
Scotland’s First Minister did not claim to answer all these questions but it was recognised that there was no flannel and the campaign group were satisfied that she had genuinely listened and cared about their loss and most importantly, agreed to the public inquiry.
“I lost my wife Debbie at 53 years of age and told the First Minister about her story; how she went to hospital before returning home for three days before being re-admitted. She had returned to work. My question is why was shielding stopped in the same month as ‘eat out to help out’ occurred, when schools and universities were also returning. Why after testing positive for Covid19 at the end of September, was Debbie allowed to walk through hospital without a face mask and was the lack of face-mask wearing in hospital the reason why there was a rise in infections? The First Minister listened with empathy and answered those questions she could. It was good to see a politician feel the need to be accountable which sends a message to the other UK leaders that this should be a four-nation approach but if this needs to be individual-nation inquiry, then it will be individual.”
Some members of the campaigning group also shared thoughts about where their minds will be dwelling during the reflective silence tomorrow:
“We found out that dad would not make it only on the morning that he died; we were told that it might be imminent or two or three days and sadly we arrived just after he died. My daughter arrived from Edinburgh but couldn’t bring the grandchildren as no more than eight people were allowed to attend – so when those people went out to see Rangers – if it wasn’t for this support group I don’t know where we would be – we have been absolutely rigid with the rules and completely isolated from the world and its incredibly hard to see people dying every day.”
“I don’t think anyone could have imagined a year ago what would come – we had an opportunity to learn from countries, like Vietman, which had previously managed a SARS virus but we didn’t learn the lessons and for the past year it’s been a cycle of trying to do things then trying not do things – it’s been horrific and we have been badly affected by it. Other people have had other conditions left untreated including mental health conditions and nobody could have predicted what it would be like. The vaccine is brilliant although not 100 percent failsafe so everyone needs to be cautious – we need to learn the lessons – we need an inquiry to help us learn. I know Nicola Sturgeon said we would have one but we need Westminster to agree also because it will saves lives, it will help otherwise, a year down the line, it will just be the same situation.”
“I lost my dad at 72 in Norwich in April 2020, so he most likely contracted it in the week before lockdown. I think there has been a real sense since the beginning of asking the Prime Minister for a public enquiry – that there is more interest in saving reputation than saving lives but our mission is more about learning lesson for future pandemics. We think we cannot waste time and this requires a lot of honesty and transparency. The First Minister was honest about getting things wrong and said she would do things differently but Boris Johnson maintained the narrative that he has done the right things but we know the government did have information so there seems to be a reluctance to admit to mistakes.
We feel that more could have been done and those lessons haven’t been learned which surely should be one of the first duties of a Prime Minster.”
“Boris Johnson and Westminster don’t want to be held accountable in any form yet when the signs were there, they didn’t do the right thing. We are in the process of grieving but Boris Johnson doesn’t want to be held accountable in any way. We all make mistakes and the enquiry would help to raise this awareness for us. Nicola Sturgeon has already apologised- the thing we want is accountability.”
Courtney from ABC News asked what the families hope to achieve ultimately?
“At end of first wave, [20 thousand UK (ONS)] residents had died, today there are [42 thousand UK (ONS)] so every week we find people who have lost their loved ones and it’s still going on. We now have someone in Nicola Sturgeon saying ‘I hear your suffering’ not ‘we did everything we could’. We were listened to and we felt heard.”
“We hope the First Minister assures a path that others will feel obliged to follow. To people who haven’t lost someone dear to them, looking at a graph is just units so we felt it was our duty to represent the families who had been bereaved and who weren’t supported to know there is something they could do to reduce that risk and this will also be a helpful process through which to grieve but the key point is that lessons should be learned. We hoped there would be much more of playbook but how will we know if we cannot scrutinise the responses.”
“We’ve had one thousand people dying a day – if these were deaths on flights there would be investigations – we want to avoid this happening to someone else.”