Health worker whose mother died after catching Covid in hospital calls UK public inquiry a 'token gesture'

Susan Colborne condemns system that allows hospitals to investigate themselves

Pamela Clifford with her daughter Susan Colborne. Pamela caught Covid-19 while in hospital for cancer treatment and later died. Courtesy Susan Colborne.
Pamela Clifford with her daughter Susan Colborne. Pamela caught Covid-19 while in hospital for cancer treatment and later died. Courtesy Susan Colborne.

A health worker whose mother lost her life after contracting Covid-19 while in hospital said Boris Johnson's announcement of a public inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic was a "token gesture".

Susan Colborne backed calls for a public inquiry after it was revealed more than 8,000 people died from Covid-19 after contracting it in hospital.

Her mother, Pamela Clifford, 72, was in hospital receiving cancer treatment when she was placed next to people who had Covid-19 and died after becoming infected, despite Mrs Colborne begging staff to move her to a different ward.

Since The National covered her case, the Royal Stoke and County Hospital confirmed that Covid-19 was a factor in her death but it stopped short of apologising.

"The public sector is all wrong and only speak of improving services with no one being held to account," Mrs Colborne told The National.

"The system is flawed and only in favour of protecting themselves first – they go by the rule of admit wrongdoings only when absolutely necessary and then apologise with the hope it will go away.

"The private sector, on the other hand, hold people to account and improve because if they don't, they lose their profit.

"The public sector doesn't have anything to lose. And that's the problem."

Hours after The National covered Mrs Colborne's fight for justice, the prime minister said that a public inquiry will be held in the spring of next year.

But Mrs Colborne is concerned that action is needed now, as cases of the new Indian variant have more than doubled in a week in the UK.

One in seven patients, more than 40,600 people, admitted to hospital in England during the pandemic so far are believed to have contracted Covid-19 while there.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is now chairman of the UK's Health and Social Care Select Committee, called the scandal the “biggest undiscussed problem” of the pandemic and believes England’s first wave could have been shortened had different guidance been followed.

"The public inquiry is not until spring 2022 and I think Boris is just making a token gesture," Mrs Colborne said.

"The Indian variant is already here and rising. Already the same mistakes are being made.

"Let's hope it's nothing – which was our government's reaction when Italy's health service was at breaking point last year and the government did nothing."

More than 3,000 grieving relatives who launched legal action against the government calling for a public inquiry also said next year is too late.

"Spring 2022 is simply too late to begin," the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said.

"It sounds like common sense when the prime minister says that an inquiry can wait until the pandemic is over, but lives are at stake with health experts and scientists warning of a third wave later this year.

“A rapid review in summer 2020 could have saved our loved ones who died in the second wave in the winter. We are ready to meet the government to start this dialogue right away. Preparations must begin immediately.

"Whilst we welcome the prime minister’s assurances that bereaved families will be consulted on this, the devil will be in the detail."

On Thursday, Mr Johnson insisted that the third step of lockdown lifting will go ahead as planned on Monday despite admitting he felt anxious about the threat posed by the Indian strain.

Public Health England has so far recorded 1,313 cases of the variant – more than double the 520 cases reported up to May 5.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Friday the government “ruled nothing out in terms of whatever action we take regionally or nationally”.

The strain is increasing fastest in northern England, particularly in Bolton and Tyneside, but also in parts of London, in the south of the country.

Updated: May 14, 2021 05:58 PM

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