Harrogate MP backs public inquiry into handling of Covid crisis as local politicians pile in on Government

Harrogate’s MP is backing an independent inquiry after a new report this week highlighted the failures and successes of the Government’s handling of Covid.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 3:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th October 2021, 3:10 pm
This week has seen another increase in Covid patient numbers and deaths at Harrogate Hospital as the district’s infection rate remains the highest in Yorkshire.

Reacting to an all-party report which condemned the UK’s failure to do more to stop Covid in the early days of the pandemic as ‘one of the country’s worst public health failures’, Andrew Jones said it was right to hold a public inquiry and that it was a case of vital lessons being learned.

Mr Jones said: “To me the new report reflects the need to have a review, the outcome of which should be lessons to be learned for the handling of future pandemics.

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“A public inquiry is due to start early next year and the report will be useful as evidence for that inquiry. I welcome its publication.”

The 150-page report by MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee called the pandemic the “biggest peacetime challenge” for a century.

The biggest criticisms were reserved for the Government’s delay to impose a first lockdown in the early days of the crisis in 2020 with the lack of early testing capacity also criticised as “an almost unimaginable setback”.

But the committee, which is led by former Conservative ministers Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, also said there had been successes by the Government, in particular the vaccination programme which is hailed as “one of the most effective initiatives in UK history”.

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP, Mr Jones argued the story of the pandemic was not straight-forward and the report, titled Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date should not be the final word.

Mr Jones said: “This is a long report covering a lot of ground. In some places it is critical of political decisions, in others the scientific advice and in some places both.

“It also highlights areas where it views the actions taken as being more positive.

“Covid is still prevalent with high case rates in our area and health services remaining pressured. There is still more to know, such as the results of the booster programme and how winter flu and covid have hit us in the colder months.

“It is right to have the public inquiry next year.”

Covid report: What the opposition say in Harrogate

Harrogate and Knaresborough Lib Dem councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the opposition party on Harrogate Borough Council, said: “The Lib Dems locally are not surprised at the findings of the damning Parliamentary report into the Covid Pandemic. We have had the same concerns.

“Our leader Ed Davey has been working to get a Public Inquiry and after 13 months he has eventually achieved a commitment from the Prime Minister that this will happen in Spring 2022.

“Everything the Government has done appears to have been reactive rather than proactive which has led to the tragic deaths of many.

"The one positive to come out of the report was with regard to the NHS and the amazing staff and their achievements in looking after us all in the most difficult of circumstances, and under a huge amount of stress and strain and how they are delivering the amazing vaccination programme."

"Back in March 2020 after listening to the WHO saying we should test, test, test I tried to get a petition going, a simple one that said, “We the undersigned, Demand that the Government start testing all Citizens for Covid-19, immediately.” I sent it to Petitions: UK Government and Parliament.

"Their response was eye watering and is a great example on how they were handling this issue…

"It said "sorry, we can’t accept your petition because the UK Government and Parliament aren't responsible for the issue you raise.

"The conduct of tests is a clinical decision for the NHS, not the UK Government or Parliament.""

"But I was not expecting the Government to send MPs out to do the testing! This was about the Government funding a testing regime!! Which they eventually did and at what cost? Billions of Pounds spent on Test and Trace with lots of failures.

"The MPs’ report concluded that, “It is wasteful to spend billions to detect potential virus carriers if they are not then supported to comply with an isolation request”".

A spokesperson for Harrogate and Knaresborough Labour Party said: "Harrogate Labour believes that the Commons report into the Government's Covid strategy unquestionably confirms for the people of the UK the dangerous incompetence of this government, and the lack of leadership at its head.

"The Labour Party consistently demanded that the Government respond much more quickly and decisively to the unfolding tragedy, but delays persisted, leading to thousands upon thousands of unnecessary deaths.

"The cross-party report- which, significantly, was led by Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt being a former Conservative Health Secretary- records that the crisis constitutes "one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced."

"Prime Minister Johnson has been left exposed as utterly unsuitable for any position of leadership; the people of UK deserve a leader who demonstrates sound and reliable judgement- not a serial blunderer who runs off on holiday when he should be facing up to his responsibilities."

Factfile: Current virus situation in Harrogate district

This week has seen another increase in Covid patient numbers and deaths at Harrogate Hospital as the district’s infection rate remains the highest in Yorkshire, according to latest Public Health England figures.

The hospital was treating 18 Covid patients on Tuesday - an increase from 13 the same time last week and the highest total since March when the hospital was recovering from peak pressure. Two deaths were also reported at the hospital on October 8 and 11.

Although hospitalisations and deaths have increased, they remain lower than previous waves such as when patient numbers peaked at 67 in January.

These lower levels are thanks to vaccinations which are weakening the link between infections and serious illness.

But the figures also show that the Harrogate district has become one of England’s hotspots for the virus with a rate of 646 per 100,000 people, compared to an average of 375 nationally.

The new local spike is being driven largely by school-age children with the highest rates among five to 19-year-olds.