Update from Chief Executive (September 2023)

October will see the start of the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry’s public impact hearings, where we will hear personal testimonies from people who were severely impacted by the pandemic in Scotland.

Bereaved family members, care home relatives, those affected by Long Covid and frontline social care and health care workers will be among those giving evidence in person.

These first hearings, which will focus on health and social care, begin on 24 October in Edinburgh and will run until early December. They mark a significant milestone in the Inquiry’s ongoing investigations into the handling of the pandemic in Scotland between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2022, the period which the Inquiry is investigating.

The hearings will give a voice to those most impacted by the pandemic. For example, people who lost family members or friends, or those who were separated from relatives living in care homes. Their experiences will help inform the Inquiry’s ongoing investigations, including the decisions taken by leaders in Scotland.

The pandemic was the most severe health crisis in living memory, affecting everyone. More than 17,700 people have died in Scotland after being infected with COVID-19. Many of those who died were unable to say goodbye to their loved ones. Thousands more are still living with the pandemic’s legacy, including those with long Covid and others who continue to experience mental ill-health due to the pandemic and the restrictions imposed.

The Inquiry team is resolutely committed to conducting a robust investigation, without fear or favour. The Inquiry will not take sides and we will act with fairness towards everyone involved.

Setting up any public inquiry is a challenge. The Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry is without doubt Scotland’s largest and most complex. We have had to start from scratch, by building a team, finding some premises, and getting investigations underway. At the same time, it is our responsibility to report as quickly as possible so that lessons are learned and Scotland is better equipped to deal with any future pandemic.

We are confident that everyone involved in the Inquiry shares a common objective – to establish the facts, learn lessons and make recommendations so that Scotland is better prepared in future.

Thematic approach

The Inquiry is adopting a thematic approach to its substantive hearings and will hear evidence from a variety of people. Our three areas of focus are health and social care; education and young people; and finance, business and welfare. The Inquiry will first look at the impact of the pandemic, then the implementation of measures and, finally, key decision-making.

By starting with health and social care we hope to bring personal experiences to the front of the Inquiry’s investigations, ensuring the human impact of the pandemic is captured first. We also recognise that for some witnesses being asked to relive traumatic experiences can be extremely challenging. That’s why the Inquiry has adopted a trauma informed and human rights-based approach to its investigations and its hearings.

The Inquiry does not expect to hear from Scottish Ministers and other key decision-makers until later. Our view is that to properly evaluate the decisions that were made, and the way in which they were implemented, the Inquiry first needs to consider the impact of those decisions in the real world. In the meantime, we will continue to gather evidence from politicians and other decision-makers to inform our investigations.

Our priority is to hear from those who lost loved ones, those who were separated from their families, health and social care workers who did all they could to alleviate suffering, and those who are still affected by COVID-19 and the pandemic.

Care home residents and many of those required to shield because of underlying health conditions had long periods during which they had no direct contact with their families and friends. Some people in Scotland were unable to receive the medical treatment they urgently required.

Health and social care workers faced huge pressures as they sought to save the lives of critically ill patients and to keep us all safe. They, along with teachers, police officers, and thousands of other emergency and key workers risked their lives in the course of duty.

In addition, many others in Scotland are still suffering from the pandemic’s legacy. Young people whose teaching was disrupted have missed out on educational, training and job opportunities. Many children and young people are still struggling with mental health issues associated with the pandemic. Businesses faced financial hardship; some closed down and jobs were lost. We will examine the impact of the pandemic on all these people.

Listening project

The COVID-19 Inquiry is an independent public inquiry for the people of Scotland. We all have our own stories to tell. That’s why, through our listening project Let’s Be Heard, we are encouraging as many people as possible to share their experiences of the pandemic with us, to tell us how they were affected, and to share the lessons they believe should be learned.

By delivering a robust inquiry with a clear set of recommendations, we want to reduce suffering and deaths in the event of any future pandemic and prevent others from having to experience the distress and heartache of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We look forward to working with the people of Scotland to ensure that the Inquiry delivers for you.