A COVID-19 inquiry must hear everyone’s voice

Written by: Gillian McElroy, Policy and Information Officer, the ALLIANCE

Published: 22/10/2021

Gillian reflects on the importance of putting people at the centre of an independent inquiry into COVID-19.

The Scottish Government recently announced that work on an independent inquiry into the handling of COVID-19 is underway (this link will take you away from our website). This is welcome news for disabled people, people living with long term conditions, unpaid carers, and third sector health and social care organisations who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. However, it’s crucial that the inquiry tackles the key issues faced by the sector and does so in a way that puts people at the centre.

In September 2021, the ALLIANCE held an engagement session with our members to find out what key health and social care issues should be included in the remit of the inquiry, and how it should be done to ensure people’s voices are heard. Our members – including third and public sector organisations and people with lived experience – shared their experiences of the pandemic, and the challenges faced over the past 18 months.

Many issues discussed are still ongoing. These include the provision of confusing and inaccessible communication; the implications of emergency planning and policymaking on health and social care, and on different population groups; loss of participation processes for people in decisions affecting their human rights; and the impact of shielding measures. As we embark on a period of recovery and renewal, it is imperative that these issues are fully addressed, and that learning from the pandemic is harnessed to improve future services, policies, and strategic planning.

The Scottish Government has committed to a rights based, person centred inquiry. We often hear about ‘meaningful engagement’, and at times it can feel like a buzzword in policy rhetoric. Too often people are involved at the end of engagement processes once decisions have already been made, and barriers such as time constraints and inaccessibility prevent people being heard in a meaningful way. We therefore urge the Scottish Government to take proactive, innovative steps to listen to everyone’s voices, particularly those that are often missing and marginalised in policy conversations.

We asked our members how the independent inquiry should be carried out to ensure that people are at the centre, and that everyone’s voices are heard at a practical level. Some key recommendations included:

  • The inquiry should consider the wealth of information and research that has been produced throughout the pandemic as a starting point
  • Not everybody will be able to contribute to discussions via traditional focus group or interview formats. People should be offered different options to share their experiences and views, including innovative and informal approaches. Suggestions included video or audio recording, postcard contributions, and storytelling
  • Accessibility and inclusive communication should inform all engagement activity. Accessible documents, guidance, British Sign Language to English interpreters, and Electronic Notetakers should be available
  • Equal access to engagement should prioritise ‘seldom heard voices’ who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and response to it
  • Lessons should be learned from third sector organisations doing important and effective engagement work
  • Barrier-free access to independent support and advocacy should be available to support individuals to share their views.

The ALLIANCE has submitted our report on the key aims and principles of an independent inquiry to the Scottish Government. To read our fully briefing, visit: https://www.alliance-scotland.org.uk/blog/news/putting-people-at-the-centre-of-an-independent-inquiry-into-covid-19/

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