NEARLY 3,000 people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 are campaigning for a public inquiry to be held into the Government’s handling of the pandemic and its failings during the crisis.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group was launched in 2020, just months after the coronavirus first hit Britain.
Finola Kelly, who lost her mother to Covid in April 2020, joined the organisation last June and quickly became an integral member of the campaign group.
Her mother Maura Kelly, who hailed from Roscommon, had moved to London five years ago to live with her after being diagnosed with dementia.
While in the capital she became a member of the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project, where she would indulge her lifelong passion for the card game 25.
However, she was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s and eventually moved into a care home in Lewisham.
In March 2020 the 89-year-old, who was a mother-of-five, was hospitalised due to a problem with her medication.
She was discharged to a new care home in London on March 17.
With full lockdown then in place across Britain, Ms Kelly was unable to visit her mother, but kept regular contact with care home staff.
Just over three weeks later she received a call telling her Maura had contracted Covid-19.
Sadly, within hours she had died.
“We have no idea where or when she caught Covid, but we got a phone call from her GP on April 8, saying she had it,” Ms Kelly told The Irish Post.
“Mum lasted a few hours. I got a phone call a few hours later to say she had passed away.”
It later became apparent that Covid had been in the care home for a week before Maura’s death, but that the families of residents were not informed.
“I asked questions” Ms Kelly explained, “it turned out Covid had been in the home a week and they hadn’t told the relatives”
“So, nobody was given the opportunity to remove their loved on from the home.
“And that’s obviously something that people get upset about and that’s common across the country in the handling of the pandemic in care homes, the families weren’t told.”
She added: You know people might not have been able to take their loved ones out, it might not have been appropriate, but they were not given the chance.”
While Ms Kelly is unsure whether her mother could have survived the pandemic, she is confident she could have at least had a more humane death, and adamant that the Government should be held accountable for their actions during the crisis.
Each of the 3,000 members of the campaign group has a loss of their own, a belief that some things could have been done differently, to make things better, and a need for answers.
“A potential scenario in my situation is that if the government had acted differently, mum would still be here,” says Ms Kelly.
“But it’s not just about whether somebody dies,” she explains.
“Obviously, my mum was elderly, she was 89.
“It’s not just that she was elderly, it was also that she died alone. You don’t get to hold her hand.
“My mum loved music; you could have played her some of her favourite music in her final hours. She would have had the last rites, but she didn’t have the last rites.
“So, it’s not just things that were done wrong, it’s also about things that could have been done better.”
She added: “My mum wasn’t a good candidate for survival because of Parkinson’s, so I’m not saying that if the Government did absolutely everything right that mum would be with us until this day.
“But there are certainly, definitely lots of people who would have been, and in my case, she would have had a better death.”
Ms Kelly, who was born in Mayo but has lived in London since 1987, has a background in public affairs, having worked for the Labour Party and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Since her mother’s death she has been a leading figure in the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, which has sent numerous letters to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for a statutory inquiry into the handling of the pandemic to be launched.
“Quite early on it was decided that we as a group wanted a public inquiry, because we were seeing patterns in what our members were raising as to the issues, which, if they were addressed, could potentially save lives in the future,” she explained.
The group cite issues including PPE shortages, failings in testing, NHS staff conditions, care home deaths and the lack of investigation into them among numerous issues they believe must be reviewed.
“Overall, our focus is to get to the bones of this, as to why the handling of the pandemic went so badly wrong everywhere,” Ms Kelly adds.
Last summer the group issued the Government with a letter before action, informing the Prime Minister of their intention to seek a judicial review of the handling of the pandemic.
Before they could progress that move, a second wave of Covid-19 hit Britain.
With the Government consumed once again by the battle to control the pandemic, the campaign group decided to “tread water” and call their review at “a more appropriate time”, Ms Kelly confirms.
Last month they deemed that time had come, and a second letter of intention was sent to 10 Downing Street in St Patrick’s week, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has until April 1 to respond to, unless the Government requests more time.
“We have written to Boris Johnson six or seven times asking for a meeting and he has either said it’s not the right time or ‘I can’t meet you because you are threatening legal action’, Ms Kelly reveals.
“But a letter before action is often used to bring the other party to the table,” she adds, “it’s not legal action, it is used because they are not corresponding, the other party is not talking to us.
“We believe it is important to meet with the prime minister, to share our experiences, what we have witnessed.
“But if Boris does not come to the table, then the next step is we seek the judicial review, we go to the courts and say we are seeking a judicial review.”
While they await a response from the Prime Minister the campaign group has been drumming up support from other politicians and party leaders.
Both Labour leader Kier Starmer and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have met with the group and pledged their support for an inquiry, Ms Kelly confirms.
“The Labour party are now officially calling for a public inquiry, and we had a very good meeting with Nicola Sturgeon on March 22, where she firmed up her commitment for a statutory inquiry,” Ms Kelly explained.
In Birmingham, Jack Dromey MP has also been supportive of the group.
The MP for Birmingham Erdington told The Irish Post: “I wholeheartedly support the calls from the Bereaved Families for Justice campaign for a full, public inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic.
“Throughout this crisis, political decisions have been taken with profound implications for the spread of Covid and, ultimately, the death toll.”
He added: “The families who have lost so much deserve to know whether their loved one’s death was preventable. From speaking with them, I also know they are determined to secure this inquiry to ensure that lessons are learnt and that others do not have to go through the agonies they have endured.
“The Government must establish an independent, transparent and wide-ranging public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic. The families, supported by us, will not settle for anything less.”
While awaiting the next move by the Government, Ms Kelly claims the group is feeling positive about the support they now have behind them.
And with the grim milestone of 150,000 coronavirus deaths recorded in the UK met over the weekend, support for the campaign group’s call to action is only likely to increase.
“I think politically we are in a strong position now,” Ms Kelly admits, “having Nicola Sturgeon and Kier Starmer behind us.”
“Obviously Boris is going to try and delay and put this off as long as possible,” she adds.
“He is on the record saying there should be a public inquiry, but every time he is pressed on that there is no response.
“There is no indication that they are making any plans to start a public inquiry.
“But for us, justice delayed is justice denied.”
She added: “It is absolutely crucial that questions are now answered.
“My overwhelming drive and that of the group is that we don’t want this to happen again. “We have the vaccine, and that’s fantastic, but it takes time for a full rollout, and, with variants, there could be challenges ahead.
“So, we are not out of the woods yet."