The prime minister has said an independent statutory inquiry that puts “state’s actions under the microscope” will begin in spring 2022.
But Covid-19 Families For Justice, which represents some 4,000 grieving families, has made an urgent call for ministers to consult with them about the aims, remit and chair of the inquiry.
The group’s key demand is the hearing allows for a rapid review phase.
Families fear lives may be lost in future if ministers fail to address gaps in the UK’s preparedness, such as on PPE, and government does not quickly learn from disastrous mistakes on lockdowns and sending infected back people to care homes.
However, ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock, have refused to commit to meeting with families on the inquiry’s terms of reference.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of the families group lost her father Stuart, 72, to the virus during the first wave.
She told HuffPost UK Johnson delayed a meeting because families threatened legal action over the inquiry’s delay.
“We stand ready and willing to meet government ministers but they’ve yet to set a date,” she said.
“Boris Johnson has previously promised to do so, but then went back on it because of the judicial review we had planned to seek.
“We have now dropped the judicial review, so there is no reason for the government not to meet with us. We are ready when you are prime minister.”
MPs have also been pressuring the government, confidence in the inquiry, which is likely to be traumatic for those hardest hit.
Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington and shadow Cabinet Office minister, has written to chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, after questions in the House of Commons were ignored.
The letter, passed to HuffPost UK, underlines that “the country has experienced tragedy and human suffering on a scale not seen since the Second World War”.
Dromey stresses ministers were causing “deep hurt” to families who “simply want to know that the government is listening to them”.
The letter says that Johnson and Hancock have seven times refused to meet families and adds: “MPs across the House will have met with constituents who have suffered great loss due to coronavirus. Meetings with bereaved families and listening to their stories are some of the most difficult and emotional meetings I have been involved in since being elected a member of parliament.
“Such meetings cannot fail but to bring home the sincere desire by the bereaved families that there be a meaningful public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic with outcomes the bereaved families can trust to be fair and reasonable.”
It adds: “That is why it is so important to the bereaved families that the government consults with them to ensure this is the case, by agreeing an appropriate chair and the right terms of reference.”
The government has said the inquiry’s remit and chair will be chosen “in due course” and that spring 2022 was the appropriate time to begin the hearing.
Asked about the inquiry in parliament, Gove has suggested families will have a role.
He told MPs: “A statutory inquiry is obviously the right way to ensure that all the right questions are asked and that full answers are arrived at.
“To ensure that the inquiry works, the experience, voices and views of those who have suffered so much must be a critical part in ensuring that it is set up appropriately.”
A government spokesperson, when asked if the PM would meet with the group, added: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our sympathies are with everyone who has lost loved ones.
“Throughout the pandemic senior ministers, including the prime minister, have met and will continue to meet with bereaved families.
“As the prime minister said, we have committed to holding a full public inquiry as soon as is reasonably possible.”