Drakeford Covid remarks 'shameful' say campaigners

time:2023-06-10 22:22:13source:Al Jazeera author:Press center6

Accusations of insensitivity have been levelled at First Minister Mark Drakeford for saying campaigners for a Wales-only Covid inquiry had moved on.

The group's Twitter account said it was "not true" they had stopped wanting an inquiry focused on the nation.

But a Welsh government source said his reference was to the group's comment that members had "shifted their focus".

The Welsh government said a UK-wide inquiry was best to examine decisions made in the four UK nations.

The news came after the UK inquiry confirmed the Welsh Covid campaigners would be recognised as "core participants".

The public hearings where people are called to give evidence do not start until the spring.

Mr Drakeford told Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies on Tuesday that an inquiry centred only on Wales was "not going to happen" and stressed that "there will be no inquiry of that sort here in Wales", saying the "world has moved on".

Sam Smith-Higgins, of Covid Bereaved Families for Justice, called Mr Drakeford's remarks "shameful".

She told BBC Radio Wales Drive: "To say that families have moved on is just, quite frankly, insulting.

"The UK inquiry today, some of our team were up there, representing Welsh families. Module one of the UK inquiry, Wales is not even mentioned in it.

"We, along with Scottish and Northern Ireland families have been today saying you need to look at Wales as well."

Ms Smith-Higgins said the group would always want a Wales Covid inquiry.

"Decisions made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales," she said.

Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru has about 500 members and met Mr Drakeford a number of times during the pandemic, repeatedly calling for a specific Welsh inquiry.

Families from Wales whose relatives died in the pandemic have now been told they will be recognised as "core participants" in the UK inquiry.

The Welsh government welcomed that decision and said it remained determined to ensure its actions and decisions - and those of other public services in Wales - were fully and properly scrutinised.

"The UK-wide inquiry is best placed to oversee the interconnected nature of the decisions that have been made across the four nations."

Mr Drakeford said he believed from meetings he had with the families that "they are moving on from continuing to ask for something which is not going to happen".

The Twitter account for Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru said: "This is not true. We believe that decisions made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales."

In a statement later, Mr Davies said Mr Drakeford had failed to explain why Wales was not holding its own inquiry, when Scotland was.

"The first minister may think that 'the world has moved on' as he insensitively proclaimed in the chamber today, but the bereaved families most certainly have not, they deserve answers," he said.

Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth tweeted that Covid campaigners were "rightly angry that they were misrepresented".

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds said Mr Drakeford "clearly misrepresented the views of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign today and should apologise and withdraw the claim".

A Welsh government source said Mr Drakeford's reference to "moving on" was in relation to comments in a press release by the campaign.

That release said Mr Drakeford was unconvinced by the need for a Wales-only inquiry and the group "have therefore shifted their focus to ensuring that Wales is fully scrutinised in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry".

Earlier, Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees from Covid Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru said it was important relatives of those who died in Wales were heard.

"This is a key milestone in our campaign and a huge relief to know that Welsh families will be represented in the UK inquiry."

She stressed that the group remained concerned the first module of the inquiry would not go far enough in examining the Welsh-specific issues needed to be investigated in depth.

"It is vitally important that the people of Wales can have full confidence that this public inquiry will fully scrutinise decision-making in Wales in respect of Covid-19 and that the experiences and voices of the Welsh people will be properly heard and represented," said lawyer Craig Court, representing the group.

Ms Marsh-Rees' father Ian caught Covid and died in October 2020.

She believes he caught Covid while at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny, after initially being admitted with an infection.

"My father died from hospital-acquired Covid. He went in for a gall bladder infection, he moved beds six times in eight days," she said.

"He was sent home without a retest. They'd had a massive outbreak. He deteriorated rapidly when he went home. He was readmitted, tested positive for Covid and died three days later," added Ms Marsh-Rees.

"The whole thing was just a nightmare from start to finish and I'm just one of hundreds of stories of dreadful things that happened."

The Covid inquiry is being chaired by retired judge Baroness Heather Hallett, who said: "I will be taking evidence next year to build a full picture of the challenges faced by the UK and devolved governments and how each chose to confront them".

The first part of the inquiry will examine the "resilience and preparedness" of the UK for an event like the coronavirus pandemic.

The second section of the inquiry will consider the decisions made by the Welsh government alongside the other governments of the UK, with evidence heard in summer 2023.

It is expected that after each of the stages on specific topics, an interim report will be produced.

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