A new Covid inquiry is to gather evidence from GPs on the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including its provision of PPE and testing, Pulse has learned.
The joint inquiry on ‘lessons to be learned’ from the pandemic response so far was announced and launched today by the House of Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees.
The two select committees will conduct weekly evidence sessions scrutinising the ‘impact and effectiveness’ of action taken by the Government and the ‘advice it has received’, they said.
Issues covered will include non-medical interventions such as lockdown and social distancing rules, as well as testing and contact tracing, Government communications and public health messaging and the development of treatments and vaccines, they announced.
The inquiry will also investigate the UK’s preparedness for a pandemic and the impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, they added.
House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt told Pulse that the joint inquiry will also cover issues with PPE and will consider evidence from GPs.
In a remote media briefing ahead of the announcement, Pulse said: ‘The BMA has called for an inquiry to include the Government’s provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare staff such as GPs. They called it “inadequate, patchy, unreliable and unpredictable”.
‘Will this inquiry consider PPE? And more generally will you be calling for evidence from GPs?’
In response, Mr Hunt answered ‘yes to both’ and said his committee had already ‘received assurances’ that PPE issues have ‘essentially been dealt with’.
He said: ‘We’ve already looked at PPE provision and we’ve received assurances in evidence for a report that we published last week from Lord Deighton that the PPE issues had been essentially dealt with. He spoke very convincingly about that but certainly we will need to make sure that that is the case.’
The report said that some NHS staff were ‘frustrated’ by a lack of ‘or in some cases perceived lack of’ access to PPE.
It concluded that there were ‘persistent failures with the procurement and supply of appropriate PPE to some NHS and care staff, particularly during the early stages of the pandemic’.
It added: ‘We welcome the appointment of Lord Deighton as adviser on PPE to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Lord Deighton’s evidence gave us confidence that the issues relating to PPE which have been raised with us will be prioritised and addressed.’
The report requested an update from the DHSC ‘by the end of November’ on ‘what steps are being taken to ensure that there is a consistent and reliable supply of appropriately fitting PPE to all NHS staff in advance of the onset of winter and a potential second wave’.
Mr Hunt added: ‘As far as general practice is concerned, it’s incredibly important that we get this right because it’s not just doctors but it’s also patients in waiting rooms that are at risk if we don’t do everything that we need to control the spread of nosocomial infections.
‘If we want the NHS to continue its other functions – very important care for cancer patients, stroke patients, people with heart attacks and so on – then we need to do everything we can to keep healthcare environments safe.’
A joint report with recommendations will be published ‘probably in the Spring’ but the committees will write to the appropriate public body with any ‘interim’ recommendations that have ‘immediate application’, joint co-chair of the inquiry Greg Clark said.
BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the inquiry was ‘long-overdue and urgent’.
He said: ‘From the testing debacle, chronic shortages of PPE, and the crisis in care homes, to the failure to adequately protect people from BAME backgrounds, the Government’s response to the Covid pandemic so far has fallen far short – with potentially devastating consequences.
‘We need a thorough but timely investigation with tangible, ongoing recommendations; an inquiry that unearths the mistakes but also provides learning from the last six months to inform how this second spike and future pandemics should be managed.’
He added: ‘The views of frontline clinicians must inform this inquiry and the BMA looks forward to working constructively with the committees to ensure the voices of our members are heard.’
In a joint statement, Mr Hunt and Mr Clark said: ‘Important lessons need to be learned that can help inform further decisions that will need to be taken in the months ahead.
‘It is crucial to learn and apply them now since the Public Inquiry that the Prime Minister has promised is likely to be some time away.’
The first evidence session will be held on 13 October and will focus on social care.
The BMA last month voted ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of a public inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic at its annual representative meeting.
The Government’s PPE provision has come under fire from GPs throughout the pandemic, with Pulse revealing last week that the emergency PPE phoneline declined 70% of requests placed by GPs up until August.