The Government will assess the health sector’s preparedness and resilience as part of its its forthcoming public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to its draft terms of reference, the inquiry will examine the impact of the pandemic alongside both the state’s and health sector’s Covid responses.
Chaired by Baroness Hallett, it will look to determine how prepared the health sector was at the pandemic’s onset, its initial capacity and its ability to boost that capacity.
It will also aim to produce a ‘factual narrative’ on aspects of the UK’s response, including on the procurement and distribution of PPE and ventilators, and the delivery of Covid vaccines and therapies.
The findings will be used to inform full and interim reports detailing the UK’s preparations for future pandemics.
Responding to the draft terms, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: ‘We need to ask searching questions as to why the NHS was allowed to enter the pandemic carrying 100,000 staff vacancies, rundown buildings, a lack of personal protective equipment and limited diagnostic testing capacity compared with other countries.’
However, he urged for the inquiry to take ‘an initial fact-finding phase’ to deliver ‘quick’ lessons, given the potential longevity of the process. It is set to begin in the first half of 2022 and is expected to last several years.
‘NHS leaders are eager to learn from the experiences of the pandemic so they can make changes now and we also need a public health and social care system equipped to deal with potential new variants and future pandemics,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: ‘We know that while there is much the NHS did well during the pandemic, it is right that the inquiry looks at areas where there were major challenges such as infection prevention and control, access to PPE, testing and robust epidemiological modelling.’
NHS Providers welcomed the focus on the health sector’s initial capacity, and resilience ahead of the pandemic.
The final terms of reference will be published subject to public consultation.