The Scottish Covid Inquiry has began - so what can we expect going forward?

The Inquiry will examine the issues, impact and aftermath of the pandemic, and how it affected the lives of Scots. 

Expected to continue until 2025, it will hear from members of the public and experts with a view to providing answers to what happened and why, and to better prepare the Scottish Government for future pandemics.  

What can we expect?  

Chairman Lord Brailsford reiterated his promise of a "robust investigation without fear or favour" as the inquiry opened in Edinburgh.

This week's hearings will take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, with subsequent hearings on October 31, November 1, and November 2. 

The health and care impact hearings will continue until December 8, then resume in February until the end of March.

These initial six sessions - which form part of the health and social care care impacts module - are focused on the opening submissions from the inquiry's "core participants", such as Public Health Scotland and Scottish Covid Bereaved, as well as statements from organisations including Alzheimer's Scotland. 

The hearings are taking place at George House in Edinburgh.

The Herald:

What is the Inquiry’s remit?  

Expected to take many months, the independent Inquiry has ben set up to  “establish the facts, identify the lessons that need to be learned and make recommendations to Scottish Ministers” so the Scottish Government is better prepared in future. 

READ MORE: UK Covid inquiry - what have we learned so far? 

The Inquiry has promised that people who have suffered because of Covid-19 and their experiences during the pandemic will “be at the heart” of it's work - "guiding its investigations and informing its reports” 

What will it look at?

The Scottish Covid inquiry has pledged to give "priority to evidence from people most impacted by the pandemic in Scotland" with a view to "ensuring the human impact of the pandemic is captured". 

Its works will be split into three core topics: health and social care; education and young people; and finance, business and welfare. 

For each of these themes, the inquiry will first look at the impact of the pandemic, then the implementation of measures, and finally, key decision-making. 

For this reason, Government ministers and their advisors be among the last to give evidence. 

The health and care module will cover a wide range of issues from the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment to the decisions around Covid testing and the controversial transfer of elderly hospital patients in to care homes. 

Subsequent modules will cover issues such as school closures and financial support for businesses which were forced to close.

The Herald:

Haven't Ministers already given evidence to the inquiry?  

That was the UK Inquiry, which is running in tandem with the Scottish one.  

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, former deputy FM John Swinney, and former Health Secretary Jeane Freeman have all given evidence to that inquiry, which began in June, but they will also be called to appear before the inquiry in Edinburgh.

READ MORE: Scottish Covid Inquiry expert linked vaccines with Autism

Lord Brailsford, chairman of the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry, and Baroness Heather Hallett, chairwoman of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, published an agreement which sets out how they will work together. 

The memorandum of understanding mentions how each inquiry will carry out its investigations in Scotland, minimise duplication of work through information sharing, and maximise value for money. 

What has been the reaction? 

The Scottish Covid inquiry has experienced a number of setbacks since it was first announced in 2021, including the resignation in October 2022 of its first-appointed chair, Lady Poole. 

This was followed by the departure of four members of the inquiry's legal team. 

In July 2023, it emerged that it had already cost taxpayers £8 million before a single hearing had taken place. 

There was also criticism over the inquiry's appointment of public health consultant, Dr Ashley Croft, to provide an overview of the scientific and medical understanding of Covid-19 as it evolved through the pandemic. 

Dr Croft's report controversially concluded that it "remains unclear if Covid vaccinations resulted in fewer deaths". 

He had previously been criticised for a 2019 report where he made a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism - a claim which research has repeatedly debunked.