Why a Welsh Covid Inquiry Must Be Held

On the 15th of December, a debate was held in the Senedd calling on the Welsh Government to hold a Welsh Covid Inquiry to learn the lessons from mistakes that were made during the pandemic, as well as understand what they got right. Here is my speech from the debate.

At the outset, I’d say that I don’t doubt the commitment of Ministers and the First Minister who faced atrocious circumstances last year.  This shouldn’t be about personal attacks.  I’m going to concentrate on a specific issue that I think exemplifies the need for a Welsh-specific Covid inquiry.

On the 27th of April, 2020, I was contacted by a care home manager who thought that Covid was brought into her care home by a resident who returned from hospital for a non-Covid related issue.  She believed around 15 residents died as a result of Covid being brought in through this route.

She said the patient had not been tested for Covid before their return because the Welsh Government’s policy at the time was not to test asymptomatic people.

I spoke to other care home managers, who had similar stories.  Some of them had asked for their residents to be tested before re-entering a care home, but had their request rejected.  They said the Welsh Government’s policy up to the 23rd of April was not only ‘not to test’ asymptomatic people going from hospital to care homes, but to refuse to allow testing even if a test was requested. 

On the 29th of April, I raised this in FMQs.  I was told that the tests were not conducted because they offered nothing useful.  This was despite there being scientific evidence available at the time showing that asymptomatic carriers did in fact test positive if they had the virus.

When that policy eventually changed, the reason given was, “not because the clinical advice had changed, but because [the government] recognised the need to give confidence to people in the sector”.

The next day, the government’s stance about the usefulness of testing asymptomatic people was contradicted by the Chief Medical Officer, who said he knew that they could test positive for Covid, and suggested the real reason for not carrying out the tests was capacity.  And on the 1st of May, the First Minister said that testing asymptomatic people did indeed “have a purpose”.

On the 21st of June, WalesOnline revealed that 1,097 people were sent to care homes from hospital without a test while the policy was in force.  Responding to the story, the First Minister gave a new reason as to why the policy was changed.  He said and I quote, "When the advice changed, we changed the practice”.  This contradicted the earlier claim that the policy had not been changed because of a change in advice, but was changed only to give confidence to the sector.

The following day, the Health Minister said that not a single death had resulted from a failure to carry out these tests.

So we have the First Minister, on record, both saying that the policy had not been changed because of a change in advice, and that it had been changed because of a change in advice. 

Some kind of miscommunication or misalignment happened, but we don’t know what.  I’m sure it would have been inadvertent.  No one would have chosen that to happen.  But it did.

I asked the Welsh Government to publish the advice they’d received, but they refused.  I have no power of subpoena that would force its publication, but an official Welsh inquiry would.  I have no confidence that a UK-wide inquiry would give this issue the focus it deserves.

And it deserves focus, because people died as a result of the policy.  A policy which never made sense.  For which a clear justification was never given; a policy where contradictory reasons were given for its changing.  A policy, which surely, necessitates the learning of lessons.

I’d like to put on record that the sacrifice and incredibly hard work of Ministers, civil servants and the First Minister in particular are not in question here.  The sacrifices he made were remarkable. 

In closing, this debate need not be an ugly exercise in point scoring about what happened under horrendous circumstances.  But there were processes that didn’t make sense last year, failures that led to deaths.  Families, including mine, lost loved ones who were living in care homes.  It is not a comfortable thing to be raising.  But not raising it, and not seeking to do everything possible to learn from what happened – that would be a catastrophic mistake. 

The vote to hold a Welsh Covid Inquiry was lost, as Welsh Labour voted against. If you'd like to watch and share a video of this speech, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/delythjewellMS/videos/499897207913038/

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Math Wiliam
    published this page in News 2021-12-17 17:11:01 +0000

A New Caerphilly starts with you!

They have the money but we have the people. If everyone who visits this website joins our movement, we can make Caerphilly matter! .