Doctor ‘flabbergasted’ bereaved families not called as Covid Inquiry witnesses

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A doctor whose father died after contracting Covid has said the inquiry will be a “farce” if bereaved families are not able to give evidence.

The Covid Bereaved Families for Justice group had put forward 20 people to be considered as witnesses for the first module of the Covid-19 Inquiry, but said none have been called to give evidence.

Six weeks of hearings are planned for the first module of the inquiry, which will focus on resilience and preparedness.

Chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett is planning to publish reports for Module 1 and 2 next year.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said the first module is opening with an impact film featuring people from across the UK sharing their experiences of loss, and that the chair “has been clear she hasn’t ruled out calling testimony from bereaved people in later investigations, for example with the use of do not resuscitate orders”.

The spokeswoman also highlighted the Every Story Matters campaign where people can share their experiences.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan, whose father Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudry died in December 2020 after he contracted Covid, was one of 20 people put forward by the campaign group to be considered as a witness.

Dr Ahsan, from Cambridge, worked on the front line during the pandemic and said she was “flabbergasted” to hear none of the Covid Bereaved witnesses put forward had been selected for the first module.

Watching your own father go through that, it was horrendous.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan

She said: “[Baroness Hallett] is not going to be able to humanise the absolutely staggering number of deaths, the wall of deaths, how is she going to pick out the crucial details from all of that, she’s going to need to make her suggestions for interventions that will hopefully stop this happening again to the same degree, it’s impossible.”

Speaking of her experience after her father became seriously ill with Covid, she said: “I stayed by his bed 24/7 watching him decline, struggling to breathe, some of the most terrifying days of my life. Watching your own father go through that, it was horrendous.

“There were times in the middle of the night when he couldn’t breathe and there was no-one to call. It was just horrific, and I am talking from the point of view of someone who even at that time whose job was working in intensive care with Covid patients and knowing what to do.

“It made me think of so many others, everyone else that was going through this, alone, at home, in the back of ambulances, in care homes.”

Dr Ahsan added: “I’ve worked in conflict zones, I’ve had that feeling of ‘oh my goodness what are we going to do, this is terrible, we can’t deal with what’s coming through the door’, I actually had that, not in Syria or in Libya or in Palestine where I’ve worked, but here in London, and that was during the period of time that Boris Johnson and his government were navigating Christmas parties and new year parties.”

Dr Ahsan said the reason she was put forward to give evidence was because as she was an ex-army officer, she could compare the training that she received in the military to deal with a nuclear, biological or chemical situation to the training she had received for a mass infectious outbreak while working as a doctor.

Our stories will save lives.

Barbara Herbert

She said: “Twenty witnesses who are not just being put forward as, yes every bereaved’s story is important, but they have been put forward after scrutiny and after getting to know these cases over a year and knowing who is going to be able to speak to the issues Baroness Hallett is looking into.

“We are people that will be able to put reality to the theory that Hallett is testing, that has got to happen, otherwise it’s just a farce.”

Barbara Herbert, who lost her husband Paul to Covid-19, speaking on behalf of Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, questioned whether the inquiry can “properly evaluate the decisions made by those in charge” without more insight from those directly impacted.

She said: “We fought to get the Government to set up the UK Covid Inquiry, and we did so because we know that to save lives in the future we need to learn lessons from mistakes in the handling of the pandemic.

“We want to honour the lives of our loved ones by making sure that their experiences are learnt from, so that nobody else has to go through the terrible suffering that we have.

“We want to hold the Government to account, and most importantly we want the inquiry to provide recommendations that will change this and other public health crises will be handled in the future.

“Now, unfortunately, we have to fight to make sure that the inquiry is able to learn these lessons and hold the Government to account. Our stories will save lives.

“That is why it is so worrying that not one of the 20 family members we put forward as witnesses in Module 1 of the inquiry have been called to give evidence. Without learning from the experiences of our members, how can the inquiry properly evaluate the decisions made by those in charge?”

Jo Goodman is a co-founder of the group and her father Stuart Goodman died after contracting Covid on April 2 2020.

Ms Goodman, 35, from Tottenham, north London, said her father was vulnerable, with mild asthma, and was in the process of being diagnosed with cancer so tried to shield him in early 2020.

Not long after starting chemotherapy, Mr Goodman became ill then was admitted to hospital where he died on April 2.

He received a letter telling him to shield nine days after he died, Ms Goodman added.

Ms Goodman said: “Even before he died I felt this immense sense of anger because we felt like it didn’t have to happen and that’s why I wanted to be able to give evidence to the module on preparedness.

“He got a shielding letter nine days after he died, my family put ourselves into self-imposed lockdown and did as much as we could with the limited information we had.

“I feel like they wrote off older people and people with health conditions as people who weren’t worth protecting, and that’s what I want to hear from the inquiry and get to the truth and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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