SCOTLAND’S troubled inquiry into the Covid pandemic is to spend tens of thousands of pounds on months of new research after failing to cover key topics at the outset.

The Scottish Covid-19 inquiry will spend up to £272,000 on 16 lots of academic research, with the contracts starting in April and potentially lasting all of 2023.

Most of the £550-a-day work relates to “additional areas not initially covered” when the inquiry commissioned four strands of research in January last year. 

The inquiry insisted the work would not lead to any delay in publishing its findings.

However, bereaved families said the research must “complement” existing work, not hold things up.

The “further scoping research” will cover key workers, social care, unpaid carers, business support, online learning and school closures, and Covid acquired in hospitals.

The impact of the pandemic on women and girls, and on refugees and asylum seekers, is also being added to the research work for the first time.

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The inquiry has estimated the new input will cost at least £139,000, and potentially another £56,000 if it has to be extended.

In addition, the inquiry expects to spend around £47,000 updating the research it has already compiled, as this only covered the pandemic up to the end of February last year.

Under its terms of reference, the inquiry is supposed to cover the three-year period from the first day of 2020 to the last day of 2022.

If updating the existing research also has to be extended, it could cost taxpayers another £30,000.

The Scottish Covid inquiry has so far cost more than £2 million, but has yet to hear any evidence.

It emerged at the weekend that it is only now recruiting a chief executive.

The job, which comes with a salary of around £100,000, involves a daunting array of responsibilities including leading a team of around 200 people, and developing a “strategic plan for investigations and hearings” and developing “the inquiry work programme, including evidence gathering and handling”.

The application pack describes the position as “challenging” and says the person will “require resilience and robustness”.

The new figures on extra academic research are contained in public tender documents issued by the inquiry.

The independent probe was set up in late 2021 under the Scottish judge Lady Poole.

She commissioned research into the inquiry’s four “investigative portfolios” – the public sector response to Covid; financial and welfare support to business and individuals; health and social care provision; and education and the impact on children.

Researchers from the universities of Birmingham, Dundee, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow and the Highlands & Islands undertook the first round of work.

But the tender specification reveals it was not enough. 

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“It would assist the inquiry in further determining the direction of its investigations to have available to it updates of the overview studies … as well as reports investigating additional areas not initially covered, or added to the Terms of Reference after the first round of scoping research was completed,” it says.

The extra work may dismay those waiting for the inquiry to get under way. 

Lady Poole unexpectedly quit in October after four of the inquiry’s lawyers resigned, suggesting tensions behind the scenes.

It led to accusations that ministers had let down Covid victims and their families.

Lady Poole was replaced by Lord Brailsford, who recently appointed a revised legal team. 

Unlike the equivalent UK inquiry, the Scottish inquiry has yet to start any public hearings.

Lord Brailsford has said he hopes to start hearings this year.

A spokesperson for the Scottish branch of the UK group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “Having met with Lord Brailsford the families were left reassured that the Public Inquiry was back on track, fully resourced and would leave no stone unturned. 

“The families welcome what they consider to be a comprehensive root and branch review. 

“The issue is no longer one of delays, but they expect this work to complement the work of the inquiry, informing the hearings set to begin in 2023.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry said: “The Inquiry is tasked with investigating the devolved strategic response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2022.

“This planned, additional academic research will cover the entire period the Inquiry is investigating and will supplement the introductory expert reports already published on the Inquiry website.

"It is one of several important strands of evidence/information gathering which will inform the Inquiry’s investigations and final report. 

“As such, it will not lead to any delay in the Inquiry publishing its findings.”

According to figures released just before Christmas, more than 16,250 people in Scotland have died with Covid since the outbreak began in March 2020.

The first deaths were reported that month by NHS Lothian, with peaks in mortality that spring, October 2020 and New Year 2021.

In early 2021, more than 2000 Scots were in hospital with Covid.

Although the vaccination programme that began in December 2020 and exposure to successive variants have helped people develop a level immunity to the virus, it continues to kill around 40 Scots a week.

A recent rise in Covid cases, as well as a surge in flu, is currently adding to winter pressures on the NHS, filling beds and having a knock-on impact on A&E waits.

There are fears China’s U-turn on its brutal Covid lockdowns could lead to new variants emerging.