Grieving family members have asked Boris Johnson for more urgency after promising to appoint someone to lead a public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic by Christmas.
The prime minister has pledged to appoint an investigative chairman within three months and said families will have a say in who is chosen.
He also gave his support to the National Covid Memorial Wall, suggesting it could become a permanent national memorial.
Mr Johnson held a private meeting on Tuesday afternoon with representatives of Covid-19 Bereved Families for Justice UK, more than a year after promising to meet those bereaved by the pandemic.
It is understood that Mr Johnson did not apologize for the time it took to meet with the families.
In a meeting that lasted just over an hour and was held outdoors at the request of families, five people explained how their loved ones caught the virus and died.
They said Mr Johnson told them there was a “clear role for bereaved families in the investigation,” which will begin in the spring.
The prime minister reportedly told the group he did not think it would be practical to hold a rapid review focused on key areas earlier than that, when it could take healthcare workers away from the frontlines.
He also said he would discuss with families the need for better grief support.
The group said it told them that the wall in front of Parliament decorated with thousands of hearts was a “good candidate to be a permanent national memorial.” I support him, it’s very moving â.
He later told reporters that the meeting had been “very emotional”.
Speaking near the memorial wall, grieving relatives expressed concern that he still seemed to view the investigation as something that should be an “aftermath after the fact”.
Co-founder Jo Goodman, whose father Stuart, 72, died in April 2020, said Mr Johnson’s commitments to engage with the group were “really positive”.
Covid isn’t going away anytime soon, and we’re still losing nearly 1,000 people a week
But she said she wanted to see the chairman of the inquiry appointed before Christmas and called for greater urgency to save lives.
The 33-year-old from north London told the PA news agency: “I think we would obviously like to see more of a sense of urgency, I think there is still a feeling that the Prime Minister sees the investigation as something that needs to happen as a kind of autopsy.
“While we think – especially since it’s clear that Covid isn’t going away anytime soon, and we’re still losing nearly 1,000 people a week – we think every day the investigation isn’t open is a day that we’re at risk of losing people in ways that could have been avoided.
Ms Goodman said the group heard stories of losing new members that echoed the experiences of the first wave of the pandemic.
She said: “You feel like you’re almost traumatized again because not only is someone telling a story that resembles your story, but you also know that you tried to prevent that from happening.”
Elkan Abrahamson, director and head of major investigations at the law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, will represent the group during the investigation.
He also attended the meeting and told PA: âThere was no sense of urgency about it. The feeling seems to be that we are still too busy to sit in the middle of a pandemic.
“So it is too early to say if what has been said by the families will cause the Prime Minister to change his approach, but at least we have been told that something will happen by Christmas, and at least we have been told. said he would involve families in the future.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson thanked those present “for their powerful and painful stories”.
A spokeswoman said: âThe Prime Minister has said he will ensure that the public inquiry gets to the bottom of many questions that they, and thousands of others like them, have about the pandemic.
âHe said it was essential to learn lessons and understand what happened in detail.
âHe said that, for now, it was right for officials to continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the investigation in the spring of next year. “
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