Bereaved family members have appealed for more urgency from Boris Johnson after he promised to appoint someone to head a public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic by Christmas.
The Prime Minister committed to appointing an inquiry chairperson within three months and said families would have an input into who is chosen.
He also lent his support to the National Covid Memorial Wall, suggesting it could become a permanent national memorial.
Mr Johnson hosted a private meeting with representatives from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK on Tuesday afternoon, more than a year after he promised to meet those bereaved by the pandemic.
It is understood Mr Johnson did not apologise for the time it had taken to meet the families.
In a meeting that lasted just over an hour and took place outside at the request of the families, five people shared how their loved ones caught the virus and died.
They said Mr Johnson had told them there was a “clear role for bereaved families in the inquiry”, which will start in the spring.
The Prime Minister is said to have told the group he did not feel that it would be practical to hold a rapid review focusing on key areas sooner than this, amid concerns that it could take health staff away from the front line.
He also said he would engage with families around the need for enhanced bereavement support.
The group said he told them that the wall opposite the Houses of Parliament decorated with thousands of hearts was a “good candidate to be a permanent national memorial. I support it, it’s very moving”.
He later told journalists it had been a “very emotional” meeting.
Speaking by the memorial wall, bereaved relatives expressed concerns that he still appeared to view the inquiry as something that should be a “post-mortem after the fact”.
Co-founder Jo Goodman, whose father Stuart, 72, died in April 2020, said Mr Johnson’s commitments to engage with the group were “really positive”.
But she said she wanted to see the inquiry chair appointed sooner than Christmas and called for greater urgency to save lives.
The 33-year-old from north London told the PA news agency: “I think we would obviously like to see more of a sense of urgency, I think there’s still the sense that the Prime Minister views the inquiry as something that needs to happen as a kind of post-mortem.
“Whereas we feel – particularly as it’s clear that Covid is not going away any time soon, and we’re still losing nearly 1,000 people a week – we feel that every day that the inquiry isn’t set up is a day that we’re potentially losing people in ways that could have been prevented.”
Ms Goodman said the group was hearing stories of loss from new members that echoed experiences from the first wave of the pandemic.
She said: “You do feel that you’re being almost re-traumatised, because not only is someone telling a story that sounds like your story, but you also know that you’ve been trying to stop that from happening.”
Elkan Abrahamson, director and head of major inquiries at the law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, will represent the group at the inquiry.
He also attended the meeting, and told PA: “There was no sense of urgency about it at all. The feeling seems to be, we’re still too busy to sit in the midst of a pandemic.
“So it’s too early to say whether what was said by the families will move the Prime Minister at all to change his approach, but at least we’ve been told something will happen by Christmas, and at least we’ve been told he will involve the families in the future.”
Downing Street said Mr Johnson had thanked those present “for their powerful and painful accounts”.
A spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister said he would ensure that the public inquiry would get to the bottom of many of the questions that they, and thousands of others like them, have about the pandemic.
“He said it was critical to learn lessons and understand what happened in detail.
“He set out that, for now, it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in the spring of next year.”