Now is the time for a Welsh Covid inquiry
Plaid Cymru's Health Spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, writes in Wales on Sunday that the Welsh Government must now commit to a Wales-specific Covid inquiry.
For over a year now, Plaid Cymru has called for a Wales-only public inquiry.
Although Wales’ handling of the pandemic has fared better than England’s in many ways and has shown the value of devolved powers, there remain serious questions about some elements of the response and in a wider global context, Wales’ death and infection toll is dire.
Certainly there are questions – from healthcare staff, from bereaved families, from parents.
These questions need to be answered properly, there needs to be proper scrutiny of the Welsh Government’s handling of the pandemic, and lessons have to be learned.
Our health service has been in a cycle of reaching breaking point over and over, and it has unimaginable added pressures in its future as a result of the pandemic. But we mustn’t forget that the health service was already struggling before the pandemic, that there was limited resilience within the system to deal with a pandemic – something that experts have been warning of.
This is something that has to be examined. What actions could have been taken before the pandemic which would have allowed the NHS to cope better with an influx of patients and mass staff absences?
Who should have taken these actions? How can we ensure there are processes in place now to ensure we are better prepared to any future challenges?
The Welsh Government has confirmed that it’s opting to have a Welsh chapter or chapters in a UK-wide inquiry. In my opinion, this opens them up to the charge of ducking scrutiny.
If they want responsibility, they have to be ready to be judged on their actions, good and bad.
Now, of course, there's also the issue that Boris Johnson himself at Westminster is ducking scrutiny in dithering about when to begin the UK-wide inquiry. He's clearly in no hurry to set up that UK-wide inquiry.
In refusing a Welsh-specific inquiry, the Welsh Government is effectively agreeing to that delay, and the spotlight on what has happened in Wales will be inevitably weakened with having that spotlight trying to be shone, with equal forensic detail, right across the UK.
We need to answer questions about what's happening in Wales.
This week, the Royal College of Nursing joined with the GMB Union and others to call on the Scottish Government to launch a separate Scottish inquiry - the same principles there. If calls for a separate Welsh investigation were made by prominent bodies whose mission is to represent the interests of health and care workers and patients here, how would the Welsh Government justify a lack of Welsh inquiry to them?
Figures out this week suggested about the quarter of COVID deaths in Wales resulted from infections that definitely or probably were sourced in hospital. That alone surely merits a Wales-specific inquiry.
Early in the pandemic, I asked the Welsh Government to listen to pleas from Welsh doctors and allied health professionals to roll out widespread mask wearing in hospitals - calls that were, remarkably, resisted at the time.
Some of the same doctors and health workers have now asked the Welsh Government in an open letter to immediately set up a Welsh-specific COVID handling investigation, to properly scrutinise decisions taken so that lessons can be learnt right now.
The Welsh Government has rightly said that it will follow the science when making decisions. Will they now follow the advice of these doctors?