New public dialogue identifies priority areas for covid-19 policy making: addressing inequalities, building public trust, and involving the public

A new public dialogue exploring the ethical and social considerations of covid-19 has found that addressing the societal inequalities worsened by the pandemic, building trust and transparency into government policies, and involving the public more in policy making are key areas of public concern and interest.

The dialogue was commissioned by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the University of Edinburgh on behalf of the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It was designed and delivered by public dialogue specialists Hopkins Van Mil.

This dialogue is the first to explicitly focus on people’s ethical considerations in relation to covid-19. It explored issues such as people’s priorities for treatment and care; people’s freedoms including in relation to restrictions, vaccinations, and shielding; and the complex trade-offs involved in trying to limit the number of deaths from covid.

The dialogue has helped to identify clear public priorities for covid-19 recovery and for future pandemics:

Re-balance inequalities that covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated

Address disparities in healthcare, particularly for those experienced by people with Black, Asian and minority ethnic heritage, and fundamentally re-think poverty which has become extreme and intolerable. This might include consideration of retaining some elements of the furlough scheme and benefit uplifts.  

Build trust and transparency into government policies and actions

For example, through greater collaboration across the home nations to provide consistent and clear messaging and communications for citizens across the UK, and by sharing evidence and information.

Public involvement in policy making

To create a society which is resilient in the face of future pandemics, the public want to be involved in shaping future policies, decisions, and actions, for example through deliberative processes such as public dialogues, citizens’ assemblies, and juries.

Danielle Hamm, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

“This dialogue gives unique insight into what the public think are the social and ethical priorities as we emerge from the pandemic. Building trust in government policies and actions, for example through sharing evidence and more transparency about decision making, is a strong message here, as well as the importance of involving and listening to the public when decisions are being made about matters that affect us all. We hope that policy makers, researchers and citizens alike will find this dialogue helpful in informing pandemic responses now and in the future”.

Henrietta Hopkins, Director, Hopkins Van Mil, said:

“It has been a pleasure to work closely with the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator to understand what people think is important as society learns to live with covid-19. The HVM team were privileged to work with dialogue participants who were so involved in the discussions, eager to listen to each other’s views, and to give serious consideration to the ethical and social dimensions of the pandemic. We were fascinated to facilitate discussions which revealed a common desire for society to prioritise solidarity, kindness, and tolerance in communities and across the country.”


Sarah Walker-Robson. Communications Manager, Nuffield Council on Bioethics  


Notes to Editors  

1. The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator (Ethics Accelerator) is a UKRI-funded partnership between the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh, University College London, and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. It brings UK ethics research expertise to bear on the multiple, ongoing ethical challenges arising during pandemics, providing rapid evidence, guidance and critical analysis to decision-makers across science, medicine, government and public health and supports public debate on key ethical challenges. The Ethics Accelerator receives core funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of UKRI’s covid-19 funding.

2. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the University of Edinburgh co-lead the Ethics Accelerator workstream ‘Public values, transparency and governance’, for which this public dialogue was commissioned.