Covid-19 public inquiry: when did investigation into UK’s handling of pandemic begin - and modules explained

The inquiry is so wide-ranging that it has been split into three modules

The official inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic has begun, with former Court of Appeal judge Baroness Heather Hallett set to investigate the UK’s preparedness for a pandemic, the Government’s response, and its impact on patients, NHS and social care staff and the public.

But what is the first stage of the inquiry and how will the timeline evolve?

Here’s what you need to know.

The inquiry is so wide-ranging that it has been split into three modules (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

When did the Covid inquiry begin?

The preliminary hearings for module 1 of the inquiry began on 4 October in London.

The inquiry is expected to last at least a year, with the first evidence sessions starting in spring 2023.

A minute’s silence was held for those who lost their lives, with Lady Hallett saying: “There’s one word that sums up the pandemic for so many, and that is the word ‘loss’.

“Although there were positive aspects of the pandemic, for example, the way in which communities banded together to help each other and the vulnerable, millions of people suffered loss, including the loss of friends and family members; the loss of good health – both mental and physical; economic loss; the loss of educational opportunities and the loss of social interaction.

“Those who are bereaved lost the most.

“They lost loved ones and the ability to mourn properly.”

Dozens of lawyers, making up teams representing more than 20 core participants, stood with their heads bowed and hands clasped.

What will the inquiry look at?

Lady Hallett said the inquiry would analyse how the Covid pandemic unfolded and would determine whether the “level of loss was inevitable or whether things could have been done better”.

She added: “My principal aim is to produce reports and recommendations before another disaster strikes the four nations of the UK and, if it is possible, to reduce the number of deaths, the suffering and the hardship.

“I have a duty to the public to conduct a thorough, fair and independent inquiry for the whole of the UK and I intend to do so.”

The former judge promised that the inquiry would “not drag on for decades, producing reports when it is too late for them to do any good”.

She added: “I promised the bereaved during the consultation process on the terms of reference that those who have suffered will be at the heart of the inquiry and I intend to keep that promise.”

However, she said she would not be able to cover every issue people wanted covering or every issue in as much detail “as some may wish”.

But she assured families that “no decision will be taken lightly”, as she also promised to look at the use of do-not-resuscitate orders in the NHS and the quality of care given to people.

What are the modules for the inquiry?

The inquiry is so wide-ranging that it has been split into three modules, with more to be announced.

Module 1 will examine the resilience and preparedness of the UK for a coronavirus pandemic.

The inquiry was told that 28 individuals and organisations have been granted core participant status for the first module of the inquiry.

These include groups representing the bereaved in each of the UK nations, the NHS, the UK Health Security Agency, the Treasury, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Home Office, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Local Government Association and National Police Chiefs Council.

Trade unions such as the Trades Union Congress and British Medical Association are also core participants.

Module 2 will examine decisions taken by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as advised by the civil service, senior political, scientific and medical advisers, and relevant committees.

Module 3 will investigate the impact of Covid on healthcare systems, including on patients, hospitals and other healthcare workers and staff.