The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has recently announced that it is opening three further modules in 2023, and aims to conclude public hearings by 2026.
The Inquiry is firmly in the news at the moment, as the Government have launched a judicial review against the Inquiry. This relates to the Inquiry’s demand for the provision of evidence under section 21 of the Inquiries Act, to the Cabinet Office to hand over unredacted diaries and WhatsApp messages. The Government is arguing that the information sought is irrelevant to the Inquiry, contains personal information and matters unconnected to the Inquiry. It is said that this represents an unwarranted intrusion into other aspects of Government and an intrusion into a legitimate expectation of privacy and protection of personal information.
What can we learn from this? First, that the Inquiry is prepared to take a tough stance on requiring evidence to be provided and second that we are likely to have some judicial guidance soon enough on the Inquiry’s formal powers. Watch this space!
In other news, we now know that the next three modules will be:
- Module 4 on vaccines, therapeutics and anti-viral treatments, which opened on 5 June 2023 and expects to hear evidence in summer 2023. Core participant applications are open, and the deadline for these is 30 June 2023. In particular this module will examine:
- The development, procurement, manufacture and approval of vaccines during the pandemic, including the effectiveness of UK-wide decision-making, in particular, the role of the UK Vaccine Taskforce. What lessons can we learn from innovative practices that were successfully introduced during the pandemic for future pandemic preparedness?
- The development, trials and use of new therapeutics during the pandemic, in addition to the use of existing medications.
- Vaccine delivery in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including roll-out procedures such as: arrangements on the ground and public messaging; Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommendations on eligibility / prioritisation and decisions taken by policy makers; the ethics of prioritisation decisions and impact on particular groups such as those with comorbidities.
- Barriers to vaccine uptake, including vaccine confidence and access issues and the effectiveness, timeliness and adequacy of Government planning for and response to inequalities relevant to vaccine uptake.
- Vaccine safety issues including post marketing surveillance, such as the Yellow Card monitoring and reporting system and a suggested correlation between Covid-19 vaccines and cardiovascular issues.
- Whether any reforms to the UK Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme are necessary.
- Module 5 about Government Procurement across the UK. This module will open in October 2023, with evidence heard in early 2025. The core participant application window will be open from 24 October 2023 to 17 November 2023.
- Module 6 examining the care sector across the UK. This module will open in December 2023, with evidence heard in spring 2025. The core participant application window will be open from 12 December 2023 to 19 January 2024.
Work continues on Modules 1 to 3. The Inquiry Chair has said she hopes to publish reports for Module 1 (preparedness and resilience) and Module 2 (core decision making) ‘during 2024’, which will make for a punishing schedule considering we have only had preliminary hearings so far.
On Module 1 (preparedness and resilience), the first full public hearing will begin on 13 June 2023. The hearings will run until 20 July 2023 and will be from 10:00am and 4:00pm each day. Hearings can be viewed on the Inquiry’s YouTube channel.
On Module 2 (core decision making), there was another preliminary hearing for Module 2 on 6 June 2023 and the full public hearings are expected later in the summer of 2023.
On Module 3 (healthcare), the first preliminary hearing took place 28 February 2023, and you can read our update about that here. There is another preliminary hearing expected later in 2023, and the full public hearings are expected to take place in 2024.