An urgent inquiry must be held now to avoid repeating the mistakes that have undermined the fight against coronavirus before the feared second peak, leading scientists say.
Boris Johnson has been told to end his refusal to order the investigation yet, with the warning: “Many more will die unless we find quick, practical solutions.”
A letter has been signed by 27 experts, of which more than half are professors in virology, public health, epidemiology or other relevant fields.
They point to “fragmentation” in health response to the pandemic, a “failure” to work with local government and devolved nations, weaknesses in channelling scientific evidence into policy and an “inability” to procure vital goods and services.
“The UK has experienced one of the highest death rates from Covid-19 in the world, with the poor and certain minority ethnic groups affected especially badly,” the letter says.
“If, as seems probable, there is a second wave this winter, many more will die unless we find quick, practical solutions to some of the structural problems that have made implementing an effective response so difficult.”
The signatories include professors Anthony Costello, a former World Health Organization director, Trisha Greenhalgh, a primary care expert at the University of Oxford, Deenan Pillay, an expert in virology at University College London and Devi Sridhar, the chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh.
The prime minister has batted away calls to start preparations for a public inquiry, insisting it is too early, while acknowledging “lessons will have to be learned”.
The prevarication has provoked suspicions that he will seek to avoid calling in a judge or leading lawyer who would be expected to identify those responsible for failings.
But the medics and scientists, in their letter to The Guardian, say the inquiry they are seeking would avoid “diverting the efforts of those responding to the crisis or apportioning blame”.
Instead, it would “propose feasible ways to overcome the obstacles faced by those on the frontline of the response and help them to save lives”.
They say the UK has suffered its sky-high death toll – now above 50,000 – despite “strenuous efforts by health professionals and scientists inside and outside government”.
Downing Street has continued to resist pressure to agree an inquiry, even after Nicola Sturgeon announced she would hold one into the high number of deaths in care homes.
Asked recently, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘The prime minister has said that there will, of course, be lessons to be learned from this pandemic.
“There will be a time to consider those. For now, the focus is on dealing with the pandemic itself.”
He gave no timescale, when a vaccine to fully end the pandemic could be a year-or-more away, and amid fears of repeat waves.