Covid: Unions demand a date for public inquiry as healthcare workers remembered

Unions are pressuring the government to announce a date for a public inquiry into its handling of the Covid pandemic.

It comes as people are being asked to remember workers who died of Covid-19 or other causes on International Workers’ Memorial Day.

A public consultation should be held to shape what an inquiry will cover, so that the voices of workers and the families of those who contracted the virus while working can be heard, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said.

The TUC said a public inquiry must look at issues including infection control and workplace safety, the failure to provide adequate financial support to self-isolate, PPE availability for health and care staff throughout the crisis and enforcement of the law on workplace safety.

A protest outside Downing Street about the recommended NHS pay rise has been organised for Sunday Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

Unions will lead the minute’s silence at midday on Wednesday at the National Covid Memorial Wall in London, to remember those who have died while working.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We’ll forever be in the debt of the workers who died during this pandemic – nurses, carers, bus drivers and so many more.

“They lost their lives looking after our loved ones and keeping our country running in the hardest of times.

“We owe it to them, and to their families, to get on with the public inquiry. The prime minister must announce a date when it will start.»

Around 150,000 red hearts have been painted as part of the memorial wall. Credit: PA Images

“Any public inquiry must look at why workers were put at risk – be it through inadequate PPE or being unable to afford to self-isolate,» Ms O’Grady added.

“This isn’t about settling scores. It’s about getting answers and learning the lessons to save lives in future.”

Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “Many of our loved ones lost their life after catching Covid-19 in their workplaces.

“From working in the factories that produced PPE for the NHS to the nurses and doctors who didn’t have enough PPE at the start of the pandemic, they kept the country going and paid the ultimate price.

An ambulance being driven down a high street Credit: PA

“An independent, judge-led statutory public inquiry is vital to making sure we learn lessons and save lives during the pandemic and for any future waves.

“The stories of our loved ones hold the answers to preventing more grief for other families.”

Pat Cullen, acting general secretary of the RCN, said: “Today also gives us all a moment to reflect on the health and care workers who have lost their lives in the last year. Every life lost to the pandemic is a tragedy and they will all be remembered by family and friends.

“They all dedicated themselves to those in their care and by taking a minute to remember them will greatly honour their memory.”

Dame Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, RCN president, said: “Nurses have borne the brunt of this cruel pandemic, including the toll on their own lives.

“Nurses have put their lives on the line for others and been at the heart of the response to the pandemic in all parts of health and social care.”

A large ‘thank you’ rainbow to show the appreciation for all NHS, social care, care, key and frontline workers. Credit: PA

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “We must never forget all those workers who died in the pandemic. They selflessly put the needs of others ahead of their own.

“It’s beyond tragic so many lives were lost providing essential services that many people take for granted. The Government owes answers to their families and the public in general.

“Only an independent judge-led public inquiry is good enough – and as soon as possible. It must have full power to summon any witnesses, compel evidence to be disclosed and hear testimony under oath.”

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) said it fully supported the call for an immediate and comprehensive public inquiry into the Government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Annette Mansell-Green of the BDA said: “Our members, as part of the wider NHS team, have seen first hand the devastating human cost of not only this dreadful virus but the consequences of the nature and timing of decision making.

“No worker should ever be placed at risk by their employer, have their safety compromised or fear for their life whilst doing their job.”

Coronavirus: What You Need To Know – Listen in for the latest information, advice and analysis on the pandemic

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said: “I urge everyone to take a moment today to remember those who have lost their lives to coronavirus and to other workplace hazards.

“We remember in particular our member Belly Mujinga, who died from coronavirus last April, and Network Rail worker Tyler Byrne, who died working on tracks near Surbiton this February.

“All workers should be safe in their workplaces and return to their family, friends and home unharmed at the end of their working day. We will never stop working for safer and more healthy workplaces for all.”

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