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At an event organised by the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator at the House of Commons on 18 May 2022, parliamentarians, policy makers and academics joined together to discuss how to bring ethical thinking and debate into public policy on pandemic recovery and preparedness, and how to involve the public.

Big Ben in London

The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator programme, a collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Bristol and Edinburgh, University College London, and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, began in January 2021 under the leadership of Professor Ilina Singh.

Pandemic members have been working together to provide ethics research expertise to decision-makers, on numerous emerging challenges. The work includes rapid ethics evidence, guidance, critical analysis, and public dialogues.

As part of the programme's commitment to engaging the public in dialogue around ethical issues the Ethics Accelerator commissioned Hopkins Van Mil to conduct a public dialogue. A report, Pandemic ethics: a public dialogue. The ethical and societal considerations of COVID-19, COVID-19 recovery, and future pandemics, highlights the key ethical values and principles that the public wants the Government and policy makers to address.

The Westminster workshop focused on two of these key areas: fairness and equality, and trust and transparency. Navendu Mishra MP hosted the event, which included around 40 parliamentarians, policymakers, and academics.

First session - fairness and equality

The first session on fairness and equality heard from panellists Professor Sarah Cunningham Burley from the University of Edinburgh, Dr Katharine Wright from the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, Beth Wangarĩ Kamunge-Kpodo from University of Bristol Law School, and Dr Shona Arora from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

The panellists opened a discussion on the importance of public deliberation of ethical tensions, and on ethical tools available to policymakers to support their deliberation, including Dr Beth Wangarĩ Kamunge-Kpodo's framework for evaluating and developing policy and the Nuffield Council of Bioethics ethical tools for decision-makers.

The attendees agreed that there is a need to establish robust communication channels with diverse communities and across intersecting cultural, social, racial, and economic groups to ensure that support reaches those disproportionally affected. Attendees also discussed how trust in public health officials can be damaged by a failure to address health inequities despite the existing evidence on this topic. Dr Shona Arora from the UKHSA spoke about the role of this new arm of government and how the concepts raised can be embedded into policy for COVID-19 recovery and pandemic preparedness.

Second session - Trust and Transparency

The second session addressed trust and transparency. The concerns of the general public were considered and the role of transparency in building trust, how to conduct public engagement during a pandemic, and how to strengthen public trust in science and public policy. Attendees heard from Professor Sarah Cunningham Burley from the University of Edinburgh, Jamie Webb from the University of Edinburgh, Simon Burall from Involve, and Professor Dame Theresa Marteau from University of Cambridge, who also participates in the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

The audience spoke about the need to engage the public in policy deliberation, what this could look like, and what infrastructure could be built into the Government to facilitate this. Participants highlighted the need for public engagement to be inclusive, for example, emphasising the need to include young people.

Professor Singh, UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator lead, said: 

 

'The event stimulated critical discussions on how to bring public values into pandemic recovery and preparedness. The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator will continue to build these links with parliamentarians and policymakers as we seek to support and inform the application of ethics and public values in the next phase of pandemic recovery and planning for the future.'

UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator team

 

For more information about the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator.

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