Health watchdog calls for public inquiry into government’s coronavirus response

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley. Photograph: P

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Dudley College of Technology in Dudley. Photograph: Paul Ellis/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

A health watchdog has called on the government to announce a public inquiry into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), an ombudsman which deals with unresolved NHS complaints in England, has said the government must come clean about mistakes it made in the handling of the crisis if it expects to avoid them in the future.

It has written to the government asking it to establish what future inquiries or reviews will take place.

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Ombudsman Rob Behrens has encouraged people who are worried about the service they received from the NHS or other public bodies to bring their case to PHSO if it is not resolved.

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He said: 'Complaining when something has gone wrong should not be about criticising doctors, nurses or other frontline public servants, who have often been under extraordinary pressure dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

'It is about identifying where things have gone wrong systemically and making sure lessons are learned so mistakes are not repeated.'

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) also called for lessons to be learnt from the pandemic to save lives in the future.

Gill Walton, chief executive of the RCM, said: 'Our NHS was lacking many of the crucial things it needed to cope with this crisis, not least a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment PPE and training for staff to use it.

'The RCM and other Royal Colleges had to step in to ensure people - from staff to pregnant women - had the most up-to-date information and advice when the government was slow to act.

'The virus also hit our black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, including NHS staff and pregnant women, harder. We have got to quickly learn from this pandemic and prepare for the future so that we can save lives that should not be lost.'

The PHSO, which paused its work on NHS complaints to focus on Covid-19, will reopen the service on Wednesday.

It said emerging complaints had centred around cancelled cancer treatments and people being given the wrong Covid-19 test results.

Ombudsman Behrens added: 'Despite my repeated calls since taking office, the government has failed to provide me with the powers available to most other national ombudsman around the world to launch an investigation without first receiving a complaint.

'It's really important, therefore, that if people have concerns about the service they have experienced they do complain to the public body and then come to my office if needed. Otherwise other people may experience the same failings.'

Earlier this month, 27 medical and scientific experts wrote a letter warning many more Britons may die if a second wave hits at the end of the year.

It warned the government is without 'quick, practical solutions to some of the structural problems that have made implementing an effective (coronavirus) response so difficult.'

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