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COVID-19 Inquiry: The Challenges Ahead

18 August 2022

We explore the COVID-19 Inquiry Terms of Reference and the challenges that may arise in the years to come…


Following the Covid-19 outbreak in December 2019, countries across the world took steps to respond to the pandemic in a range of ways; some more restrictive than others.

As many of us undoubtedly recall, the UK approached the pandemic by implementing multiple lockdowns and preventative measures including face masks, social distancing, 'track and trace', travel restrictions and isolation rules. 

Many will agree that there is an urgent need to understand how the UK can prevent another human, social and economic disaster on the scale that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As of 28 June 2022, the Prime Minster confirmed the Terms of Reference ("ToR") for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in summary:

  • The public health response across the whole of the UK
  • The response of the health and care sector across the UK
  • The economic response to the pandemic and its impact, including governmental interventions 

The detail surrounding these areas is vast; a breakdown of the scope in relation to each area can be found within the Inquiry's ToR.

The Inquiry has already begun evidence gathering through public consultation; as of 7 April 2022 the CTI met with bereaved families, community and support groups, professional and other bodies across the UK to gain feedback from those affected by the pandemic.

In her recent opening statement, the Chair Baroness Hallett, announced the Inquiry will open the first three modules and hold preliminary hearings this year, with substantive public hearings beginning in late Spring 2023. The Inquiry will be heard on a module by module basis with Module 1 examining the resilience and preparedness of the United Kingdom. Thereafter, Module 2 will look at core political and administrative governance and decision-making for the UK. Module 3 will examine the impact of Covid, and of the governmental and societal responses to it, on healthcare systems generally and on patients, hospital and other healthcare workers and staff.

The Challenges Arising

Given the vast scope of issues arising from the response to the pandemic, it is clear that many will feel that areas may have been missed, overlooked or not explored in their entirety. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the CTI acknowledges that although proposals have been made to add specificity and many have been accepted, there must be "a balance to be struck" and ToR must in the end be to "some degree high level".

As quoted by The Health Foundation, the Covid-19 Inquiry is likely to be "the most wide-ranging and complex investigation ever undertaken by a public inquiry" and the Inquiry face an undoubtedly challenging task in order to establish lessons to be learned in preparation for future pandemics across the UK. 

Some of the key challenges that the Inquiry will face are:

  • The complexity of issues to be investigated; some feel that there ought to be multiple inquiries needed rather than a single one
  • The sufficiency and depth in which the Inquiry can examine the sheer breadth of areas that fall within the Terms of Reference
  • Managing and setting reasonable timescales, to be able to investigate and report on the pandemic
  • Linked to this, the management of a wide ranging and extensive disclosure exercise, and considering which are the key witnesses to be called
  • To what extent the Inquiry will and won't grant Core Participant status given the extensive number of organisations who may be potentially involved

One overarching challenge for the Inquiry will be the balance it has to strike between the above factors, and ensuring that there are sufficient opportunities for all groups of people (including BAME communities, front line workers, care home residents, etc.) to voice their opinions, experiences and to be heard. Ultimately, the Inquiry will need to work to instil confidence in the UK public that the process is a thorough, transparent and inclusive one. 

Further Reading