Groups supporting the bereaved relatives of care home residents who died during the coronavirus pandemic will seek to become core participants of the forthcoming public inquiry.
Two organisations – John’s Campaign and the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA) – have told the Government they will apply for the status when the legal process allows.
The groups, represented by Leigh Day, are calling for the inquiry to start urgently to “provide answers to those whose lives have been most severely affected and to learn lessons before it is too late”.
John’s Campaign has repeatedly threatened the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) with legal action over its care home guidance, which has subsequently been amended several times.
Both organisations have concerns about an ongoing requirement for residents to isolate for 14 days on their return from hospital to the care home.
In addition, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, which represents those who have lost loved ones, has told the Government it should have core participant status and work must start immediately now restrictions are lifted.
However, its impression is that “little work has been done to progress the inquiry behind the scenes”.
The Prime Minister has said an independent inquiry with statutory power will start in Spring 2022 and will place “the state’s actions under the microscope”.
Core participants can make opening and closing statements when oral evidence hearings start, see any inquiry report in advance of publication, and their legal representative can apply for permission to question witnesses.
In granting a person or organisation core participant status, the inquiry chairman must consider whether they played a direct and significant role or have significant interest in the matters the inquiry will examine.
R&RA director Helen Wildbore said the charity’s helpline has supported people through the shock of the care sector being neglected, grief caused by Government “mismanagement” and anxiety from months of isolation.
She said: “Older people have been failed by the very systems designed to protect their rights.
“They continue to be failed and left behind in the most appalling way whilst the rest of the country gets back to normal.
“Our work has given us unique insights into the experiences of people living at the sharp end of coronavirus.
“We will make sure their voices are heard at the public inquiry and push for the answers families are so desperate for.”
Julia Jones, co-founder of John’s Campaign, said: “A system has been exposed where people have no right to complain without risking eviction and where walls of secrecy can be erected inside which individuals feel imprisoned and where there is frightening scope for neglect and abuse.
“From the DHSC and Public Health England, through the care provider organisations, local authorities, commissioners etc, people in power seem shockingly unaware of the true situation as it impinges on individuals.
“This is a systemic failure, which the public inquiry needs to expose and remedy.”
Leigh Day partners Emma Jones and Tessa Gregory, who are representing the groups, said proceedings must start as soon as possible as delays can lead to missing documents and fading memories.
Ms Gregory said: “If the inquiry is to be effective it is imperative that our clients, who have fought to ensure the rights of residents and relatives are protected, are allowed to play a full role in the inquiry process.”
Hannah Brady, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “We’ve met with and made it clear to the Cabinet Office, and via them to the PM, that we believe we should have core participant status.
“Unfortunately our impression is that little work has been done to progress the inquiry behind the scenes.
“The Government cannot kick the can down the road on this, doing so could put lives at risk further down the line.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by data and scientific advice and have acted quickly and decisively to save lives and livelihoods.
“Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our sympathies are with everyone who has lost loved ones.
“As the Prime Minister said, we have committed to holding a full public inquiry as soon as is reasonably possible.”