Covid campaign group formed after people left feeling ‘abandoned’ by Government

People who lost loved ones in the pandemic came together to form a campaign group after feeling “abandoned” by the Government, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

Many of those who have spoken out about their losses have faced abuse online and sometimes in-person from Covid-deniers, piling “trauma on trauma”, Tuesday’s hearing was told.

After evidence from one of the founding members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett branded such abuse “plain cruel”.

Matt Fowler (pictured centre) told the hearing he had helped co-found the campaign group to give voice to those worst impacted by the pandemic, including bereaved, those who had suffered with Covid, key workers, and people from ethnic minorities who had been disproportionately affected.

Giving evidence in the final week of the inquiry’s module one hearings, he said: “To begin with, Jo (Goodman, group co-founder) and I, when we started the organisation, we knew that we wanted to try and do something for change.

“At the time it was difficult to work out exactly what form that was going to take. People were coming to us, they felt that they had been abandoned by the Government and left to deal with their bereavement on their own.”

He said they had tried to “encompass as much of the pandemic’s effects as we can, because it’s important that everything is looked at, we can’t be allowing anybody to be left behind or anything to fall through the gaps”.

Mr Fowler, whose father Ian died with Covid in April 2020, said he and others have had to deal with abuse from anti-mask protesters and vaccine sceptics while coping with their grief.

He said: “That attitude of Covid denial or Covid scepticism, anti-mask protesters, vaccine sceptics, those people have often targeted me and members of the group that I represent. Sometimes they have gone out of the way to seek people out.

“We’ve had people that have made media appearances talking about their loss, who have then been stalked via social media and abused and in some cases threatened. And one of the things that I would like to point out is that had my dad died from something else, say cancer, people wouldn’t be coming to me and saying ‘well, was it really cancer?’.

“It’s something that has been very unique to our loss to be targeted in that way.”

Lady Hallett extended her sympathies for what he and others have had to go through.

She said: “I cannot understand the mentality of people who abused and threatened bereaved people like you. It is just plain cruel. It piles trauma on trauma and I’m sorry there are people like that in the world.

“Your father was obviously a very special man and his death a great loss to you, your family and by the sounds of it the local community. So you’ve done him honour in the work that you’ve done. And I promise I will answer as many of the questions and learn any lessons that I can in the course of this inquiry.”

Speaking about his personal experience, Mr Fowler said restrictions in place early in the pandemic had meant only 10 people could attend his father’s funeral, all socially distanced.

He said: “Those that we lost, we lost without dignity.”

Asked what he had in mind when the group began efforts to prevent others suffering the same as what he had gone through, he replied: “We wanted systemic change, we wanted there to be a change in the attitude towards how things had been managed.”

He said the group’s main area of concern was “that element of not proactively having plans in place for this sort of world event”.

Other areas of concern he listed included patients being moved frequently between wards “which obviously increased exposure to infection”, out-of-date PPE (personal protective equipment), and “utterly tragic” situations where some NHS workers stayed in tents in their gardens to try to avoid spreading infection to loved ones.

He said almost 7,000 people had approached or joined the group, many of whom have “horror stories” to share including the use of do not attempt resuscitation (DNAR) notices and a lack of availability of respirators and ventilators.

Representatives from the Covid Bereaved groups from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales were also giving evidence on Tuesday.

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, a founder of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru, gave a harrowing account of her father’s death, and called on Baroness Hallett to bring about change within her grieving mother’s lifetime.

Meanwhile Brenda Doherty, the daughter of Ruth Burke – who was the first woman from Northern Ireland to die from Covid – described her mother as having been “double-bagged like toxic waste” after her death in March 2020.

Jane Morrison, of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group, told how she had to spend two weeks alone in self-isolation, having been allowed to spend her wife’s final moments with her in hospital. This, the inquiry heard, had extended and aggravated her “agony” in grief.

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