The Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Involve have jointly written to the Prime Minister today setting out suggestions for greater transparency and public involvement as the UK moves towards phase two of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter says that phase two of the response to COVID-19 must not rely solely on scientific advice but also explicitly address questions of how different interests and risks are being balanced. For example, the needs of those who are economically very precarious, and those who are at greater risk from COVID-19, especially older people; of what interests might take priority and why; of who might bear the greater burdens for the protection of others; of what principles and values are informing the decisions about how to move forward; and what lasting effects to their way of life people will be asked to accept.

Following a statement made by the Nuffield Council on Saturday, upon his return to office on Monday, Boris Johnson promised ‘maximum transparency’ about how decisions to tackle COVID-19 are being made. 

The letter suggests five pointers for improving engagement and accountability to all sections of society for the decisions that are being taken. These are that the Government should:

  • Show the public what it is doing and thinking across the range of issues of concern 
  • Set out the ethical considerations that are informing its judgements
  • Explain how it arrived at decisions including what advice it has sought and received
  • Invite a broad range of perspectives into the discussion, including wider cross public representation
  • Think ahead – consult and engage other civic interests through genuinely open fora and deliberative processes such as citizens’ assemblies. 

Dave Archard, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said: 

“The urgency of the situation presents huge challenges for Government and for policymakers. But these are critically important issues and we need to talk about them together. The public need to know and understand what values are in play and what judgements are being made by the Government and on what advice. But Government also needs to attend to the values expressed by all sections of society in response to this unprecedented situation”. 

Tim Hughes, Director of Involve, said: 

"The decisions taken over the coming weeks and months in response to COVID-19 will have consequences that will be felt for many years and decades. It is essential that those decisions are taken with the benefit of the insight and scrutiny of all sections of society. The public must be at the heart of responding to COVID-19 and shaping the future beyond it."

The letter to the Prime Minister is available below.