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Cambridge doctor who lost her father in pandemic fears Covid-19 inquiry will be ‘farce’

A doctor from Cambridge whose father died after contracting Covid has said an inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic will be a “farce” if bereaved families are not able to give evidence.

The Covid Bereaved Families for Justice group had put forward 20 people to be considered as witnesses for the first module of the Covid-19 Inquiry, but said none has been called to give evidence.

Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudry died of Covid-19
Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudry died of Covid-19

Six weeks of hearings are planned for the first module of the inquiry, which will focus on resilience and preparedness.

Chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett is planning to publish reports for Module 1 and 2 next year.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said the first module is opening with an impact film featuring people from across the UK sharing their experiences of loss, and that the chair “has been clear she hasn’t ruled out calling testimony from bereaved people in later investigations, for example with the use of do not resuscitate orders”.

The spokeswoman also highlighted the Every Story Matters campaign where people can share their experiences.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan, whose father Ahsan-ul-Haq Chaudry died in December 2020 after he contracted Covid, was one of those put forward by the campaign group.

Dr Ahsan worked on the front line during the pandemic and said she was “flabbergasted” to hear none of the Covid Bereaved witnesses put forward had been selected.

She said: “[Baroness Hallett] is not going to be able to humanise the absolutely staggering number of deaths, the wall of deaths. How is she going to pick out the crucial details from all of that? She’s going to need to make her suggestions for interventions that will hopefully stop this happening again to the same degree. It’s impossible.”

Speaking of her experience after her father became seriously ill with Covid, she said: “I stayed by his bed 24/7 watching him decline, struggling to breathe, some of the most terrifying days of my life. Watching your own father go through that, it was horrendous.

“There were times in the middle of the night when he couldn’t breathe and there was no-one to call. It was just horrific, and I am talking from the point of view of someone who even at that time was working in intensive care with Covid patients and knowing what to do.

“It made me think of so many others, everyone else that was going through this, alone, at home, in the back of ambulances, in care homes.”

Physician, presenter and journalist Dr Ahsan added: “I’ve worked in conflict zones, I’ve had that feeling of ‘oh my goodness what are we going to do, this is terrible, we can’t deal with what’s coming through the door’, I actually had that, not in Syria or in Libya or in Palestine where I’ve worked, but in London, and that was during the period of time that Boris Johnson and his government were navigating Christmas parties and new year parties.”

Dr Ahsan, who has presented programmes including Trust Me I’m A Doctor, said the reason she was put forward to give evidence was because as she as an ex-Army officer she could compare the training that she received in the military to deal with a nuclear, biological or chemical situation to the training she had received for a mass infectious outbreak while working as a doctor.

Explaining the choice of witnesses, she said: “Every bereaved’s story is important. But they have been put forward after scrutiny and after getting to know these cases over a year. We are people that will be able to put reality to the theory that Hallett is testing. That has got to happen, otherwise it’s just a farce.”

Barbara Herbert, who lost her husband Paul to Covid-19, speaking on behalf of Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, questioned whether the inquiry can “properly evaluate the decisions made by those in charge” without more insight from those directly impacted.

She said: “We fought to get the Government to set up the UK Covid Inquiry, and we did so because we know that to save lives in the future we need to learn lessons from mistakes in the handling of the pandemic.

“We want to honour the lives of our loved ones by making sure that their experiences are learnt from, so that nobody else has to go through the terrible suffering that we have.”

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