Welsh Covid-19 bereaved families: Getting answers over deaths is 'like an Agatha Christie mystery'

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees founded the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group Credit: UK Covid-19 Inquiry

The woman leading a campaign group for those who lost loved ones during the pandemic has made a plea for the UK Inquiry to find answers as quickly as possible.  Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, from Abergavenny, founded and leads the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group.

The group has been granted ‘core participant’ status, which has allowed its barristers to ask questions and make representations to the Inquiry chaired by Baroness Hallett.

On Tuesday the group was able to give evidence directly for the first time as part of the Inquiry’s work on preparedness before the pandemic. 

Ms Marsh-Rees ended her evidence session by urging the Inquiry to conclude its work as quickly as possible. 

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees has long campaigned as part of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group Credit: PA

She said, “There’s a whole generation, my mum’s generation who haven’t got the mechanisms to complain and question. 

“They are heartbroken. My mum cries daily. We’d like some change in their lifetime. If it doesn’t, they’re just left with that feeling that nobody cared and if that can be expedited in any way we’d really appreciate that.”Baroness Hallett said, "We will do our very best,” and thanked her by saying: “It takes great courage to channel your obvious grief into trying to help others and to reduce the suffering of others in the future.”

She added that, “grief is bad enough in normal circumstances but grief in a time of lockdown and isolation in the circumstances you describe is just dreadful.”

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees’ father Ian died from Covid in October 2020 after being admitted to hospital for an unconnected infection. 

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry was set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic Credit: Cardiff University

Ms Marsh-Rees told the Inquiry that the family was left in the dark about his exposure to Covid while in hospital and has had to fight for every piece of information. She said it was “like an Agatha Christie mystery” trying to find out what happened. 

And she said that it was her efforts to get answers that led to her forming the campaign group in Wales. 

“First of all you’re in shock that it’s happened to you and you think it’s only happened to you. And then you find out through various social media groups that there are other people maybe in the area that have a similar story. 

“And then you find out there’s other people from other health boards and the picture builds to this wasn’t an isolated incident, this was quite a regular occurrence of people going into hospital with one thing and not coming out or dying from Covid.”

Asked by the Inquiry’s barrister if the group wanted to campaign for change in the future, she said that, “Of course we want to find out what happened and why it happened, who was responsible.”

And she added that: “But we do want change and we’ve been very successful at not just being a campaign group to get answers but also trying to change things, so we’ve been introduced to the National Bereavement Steering Group of Wales, through that we have, because we got zero bereavement support from any hospitals in Wales.

"We’ve now set up working groups with each of the health boards so we are trying to channel that grief, frustration, heartbreak into areas where we can really make change and using our lived experience to do that.”

The bereaved families group has been calling for a Wales-specific inquiry.

The Welsh Government has refused to commission one, insisting that the UK Inquiry will scrutinise Welsh decisions but in the context of UK-wide decisions which were being made during the pandemic. 

Families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 have been involved in giving evidence to the Inquiry Credit: PA

The Conservatives have said that today’s evidence is another reason why there should be a Wales-only inquiry. 

The party’s Shadow Health Minister Russell George said that, Giving evidence today took strength and conviction from Anna-Louise representing all of the families of Wales and their collective loss from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is ridiculous that she is still waiting for answers from the Aneurin Bevan health board on the loss of her father. Families should not be forced to wait, preventing them from moving on and dealing with their loss.

“Anna-Louise’s touching testimony shows us now more than ever that Wales desperately needs its own independent public inquiry into the Welsh Government’s handling of Covid-19.”

But the First Minister said that the Inquiry so far has shown why the UK Inquiry is sufficient to scrutinise Welsh decisions. 

First Minister Mark Drakeford also gave evidence to the Covid inquiry Credit: PA

Mark Drakeford told ITV Cymru Wales' Sharp End programme that “the evidence that I gave is all about Module 1 which is focusing on preparedness, and preparedness is all about the relationship between the Welsh Government and the UK Government and other parts of the United Kingdom. 

“All the exercises that we looked at were run not on a Wales basis but on an England and Wales basis and sometimes broader than that basis. “The planning that we looked at: it was a UK influenza planning that we were exploring. A Wales-only inquiry would have no powers at all, could not have powers to compel people outside Wales to give evidence to it nor would they do so.”