The daughter of a ‘Rottweiler’ councillor who died from coronavirus has said that he would have been fighting ‘tooth and nail’ for a public inquiry into the way the Government has handled the pandemic.
Fiona Kirton is campaigning on behalf of her dad Bernard Kirton, an outspoken former mayor who died in hospital aged 84 after catching Covid-19.
Fiona, 60, wants the judge-led inquiry into the response to the crisis to be held before winter hits, with the threat a second wave of the virus will hit just as the NHS is at its most stretched.
She is a member of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, the group Boris Johnson declined to meet last week. While the PM has promised a review will take place, he has not set a specific date for it.
In Westminster yesterday, a cross-party Commons committee said an inquiry must take place by January. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s intervention follows calls by bereaved families for an ‘immediate’ review as infection rates rise.
Mr Kirton, a long-standing independent town councillor from Whitnash, Warwickshire, was an ardent campaigner for people he felt had been let down by the system, especially those denied vital health and social care.
He had earned the nickname ‘The Rottweiler of Whitnash’ due to his dogged pursuit of those in power, ranging from the county council to Sir Richard Branson.
Fiona, from Somerset, believes the grandfather’s death on April 7 was preventable after he was initially taken into Warwick Hospital following a fall at his home.
A care home had provisionally accepted him on condition that he take a coronavirus test, but she claims the hospital would not carry out the procedure at the time.
‘I’m doing this in my dad’s memory,’ Fiona said. ‘We didn’t agree on many things but he would have been apoplectic if this had happened to one of his constituents.
My dad would have wanted this done, yesterday
‘He would have fought tooth and nail for cross-party support for an independent, statutory inquiry with a powerful judge who can gather all the evidence really quickly.
‘He would have wanted that done yesterday, to save lives. He would have said, “shove the party politics and get on with it”.’
The campaign group, which represents more than 1,800 families who have suffered bereavements due to Covid-19, wants a statutory inquiry to take place on the same time-scale as the Taylor Review, which reported back in 11 weeks after the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989.
Fiona said: ‘My dad went into hospital after a fall and I had found a really good care home that had agreed to take him, but only if he took a test. The hospital refused to test him on discharge, even though I pushed really hard.
‘Then it took another two weeks to get him into another care home and in his first hours there his temperature went up, so he obviously caught it on a ward.
‘He then had another fall and was readmitted to hospital.
‘He died on the seventh of April and we couldn’t see him or speak to him because of visiting restrictions and because he needed new hearing aids, which they couldn’t fit because of Covid.
‘The nurses who looked after dad were wonderful and kept us informed over the phone. I cannot fault them, but the bottom line is he shouldn’t have caught the virus in the first place.
‘My last memory of him is when I phoned him and a nurse held the phone to his ear, he couldn’t hear me properly and he was shouting “get me out of here” – they were the last words I heard him say.
‘I wish now I’d driven up from Somerset to get him out of there.’
Fiona told Metro.co.uk that other bereaved families say lessons need to be learnt to save lives in the future after reporting problems using the 111 system, which one family found was non-existent in their area.
‘Our argument is that a public inquiry has to have an initial phase that can be delivered rapidly,’ she said. ‘Had Boris Johnson done it when we asked twelve weeks ago we’d have that report in our hands now.
‘We are relying on the “Preparing for a Challenging Winter” report published by Sir Patrick Vallance and it is saying that in a worst case scenario there will be excess hospital deaths of nearly 120,000 people during the winter months, peaking in January and February.
‘There’s already a huge strain on the NHS and that’s why we need an inquiry now, it’s almost too late. The commons committee is not saying this has to be judge-led, we are, and it has to happen immediately.
‘We are in unprecedented times and we cannot just rely on experts, we know from being at the sharp end where the failings are. The family’s evidence has to be heard to save lives.’
MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have told the Government to make preparations for the public inquiry – such as appointing a chair and framing terms of reference – so it can begin taking evidence in January.
The committee found that a review ‘has significant potential to identify past mistakes and drive improvements in tackling the health, economic and social consequences of the virus in the UK’.
But in a statement accompanying their report, the committee said it is ‘unlikely that this could be established in time to provide recommendations that could contribute to the response to a possible second-wave of infections over the winter months’.
A Government spokesman said: ‘This has been an unprecedented global outbreak and the Government has acted to protect lives, incomes and the most vulnerable in our society.
‘As the Prime Minister has said, in the future there will be an opportunity for us to look back, to reflect and to learn some profound lessons. But at the moment, the most important thing to do is to focus on responding to the current situation and that’s exactly what we’re doing.’
Metro.co.uk has contacted South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust for comment.
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