Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, Heléna Herklots CBE, said:
“It is crucial that a Public Inquiry to examine the action and decisions taken by Welsh public bodies and services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact these had on older people’s lives, is underpinned by a set of key principles to ensure that older people are enabled and supported to participate and make their voices heard, that their views and experiences are valued, and that they are able to share their experiences in their own communities and in the language of their choice.
“It is my view that the most effective way to secure these outcomes for older people and their families is for a specific Welsh Public Inquiry to be held that can properly take account of decisions made in Wales, and I would like to thank the older people and their organisations who have engaged with me and shared their views on why they feel a Wales-specific Inquiry is important, which has helped me to reach this position.
“I recognise that there are many elements of the pandemic response where decisions were either taken by the UK Government, or where Welsh Government decisions were considerably influenced by those taken in Westminster, but ultimately, decisions about the health service, social care, education and restrictions placed on our daily lives were made by Welsh Ministers and therefore accountability for those decisions, whether deemed positive or negative, must fall to the Welsh Government.
“Holding a Wales-specific Public Inquiry will ensure that the Chair and the panel running the Inquiry understand devolution and the cultural and political distinctiveness of Wales, as well as being representative of the diversity of our nation and accessible in a way that a UK-wide Inquiry may not be able to achieve.
“This will be crucially important if we are to hear directly from older people and their loved ones, many of whom will have lost someone, and give them the opportunity for their stories to be heard. Enabling people to share their experiences and have their voices heard will be a fundamental part of an Inquiry, and will be part of our collective recovery from this most devastating period.
“Delivering this, as well as ensuring that an Inquiry has people’s human rights at its heart, can only be realistically achieved through a Wales-specific Inquiry. Wales has a proud record as a nation that promotes the rights of its citizens and it is crucial that we are able to understand how these rights may have been infringed upon or not upheld.
“I know we have a potentially difficult winter ahead of us, and whilst I do not want to place any additional burden or pressure on our health and care services, I believe that now is the time to scope out the terms of an Inquiry, ahead of starting to gather evidence in the spring.
“In addition to ensuring there is accountability for the decisions made by the Welsh Government and other public bodies in Wales and the ways these affected the lives of older people, a Wales-specific Inquiry will also help to ensure that lessons are learned, that good practice which made a positive difference is recognised and, ultimately, that change is delivered for older people.
“We must therefore not risk missing potential opportunities to identify where improvements are needed – to make our health and care services more resilient and sustainable, for example, or to ensure that older people’s rights are protected and upheld – as we live with the virus and its consequences in both the short and longer-term.
“I have written to the First Minister to make my views on this matter known and I am currently awaiting a response.”