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Nicky Marr: Will Covid inquiry really give us the whole truth?

By Nicky Marr

Will the Scottish inquiry show us the full impact of Covid decisions?
Will the Scottish inquiry show us the full impact of Covid decisions?

That’s three times I’ve had Covid now but, ever the optimist, I’ve just had my NHS Winter Double – a shot of anti-flu (as it were) in one arm, and anti-Covid in the other. Although my bouts of Covid have felt less severe each time (maybe because I was vaccinated?) I’m sticking with the jabs. After years of asthma and chest infections, my lungs need all the help they can get.

It’s easy to look back to when we started hearing about this mystery disease, spreading our way from China, via Italy, and to forget the deep fear and uncertainty. To forget the strangeness of the first lockdown, the orders to work from home, the scrabble to bring student children home, and the worry about how elderly relatives might cope, should they succumb.

It’s easy to forget how silent life became, without planes in the skies, nose-to-tail traffic in our town centres and – yes – with everyone on Zoom calls struggling to find the ‘unmute’ button. And how cautious we all became, wearing masks, keeping our distance from friends and family, and washing down groceries after that single, solo, supermarket shop of the week.

But brace yourself. All of those memories are about to come flooding back as the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry finally got under way in Edinburgh this week.

Separate from the UK inquiry, our one, with Lord Brailsford as chairman, will, in his words, be a “robust investigation without fear or favour”.

Expected to last for months and having apparently already cost the taxpayer £8 million the purpose of the inquiry is “to establish the facts of, and learn lessons from, the strategic response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland”. Call me cynical, but will we ever really learn the whole truth?

What I’d love to see is an inquiry conducted with the rigour and gravity of a court case but with openness and candour. Mistakes were undoubtedly made. They need to be exposed and owned by their authors, without fear of recrimination. Otherwise, how can we avoid the mistakes of the past?

I’d like voice to be given to the bereaved, and to those who were working in care homes and in hospitals. I’d like there to be evidence from teachers and child psychologists about the impact closing schools and depriving children of social interaction has had on their education, development and mental health.

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I’d like to hear from hospitals today about the number of patients whose cancer and other conditions went undiagnosed because they didn’t want to ‘bother the doctor’, or whose treatment was put on hold.

And I’d like to hear from people who lost their businesses and livelihoods, or who have struggled to properly recover. Do they feel their financial compensation was adequate? What would have helped them to survive?

In theory, the inquiry will cover some of this ground. But overshadowing the human stories, I fear that those who led the country – and their advisers - will be defensive, and will tell their stories through the skewed prism of hindsight, casting a rainbow over their own decisions, when that rainbow properly belonged to the NHS.

And I fear that this inquiry, instead of being about actions taken and lessons learned, and about mistakes to be avoided in the future, will give ammunition for mud-slinging and political point-scoring.

If our Scottish proceedings are anything like the evidence that’s been given in the UK inquiry, with resistance from those right at the top of Downing Street to share WhatsApp messages and emails, I can’t see that we’ll ever get the full picture here. What we can be assured of, though, is wall-to-wall news coverage of those early days, those difficult decisions, and of a time of ‘Stay at Home’, ‘Protect the NHS’, and ‘Get the door, Frank’.

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