Matt Hancock Responds To Criticism From Dominic Cummings And Defends Pandemic Response To Parliamentary Inquiry MP
Matt Hancock hit back at Dominic Cummings yesterday for insisting he had not lied to the prime minister and was not responsible for the deaths of thousands of nursing home residents.
The health minister, who appeared before MPs for more than four hours, blamed scientists for many of the mistakes made during the coronavirus pandemic.
He defended the timing of the first lockdown, saying that intervention earlier than March 23 last year would have gone against scientific advice at the time.
And he claimed no one had died due to shortages of personal protective equipment.
Mr Hancock also revealed that at the start of the crisis he was told as many as 820,000 people could die from the disease.
And he demanded a thorough investigation into whether the virus had actually escaped from a Chinese lab.
Mr Hancock appeared before a joint meeting of the House of Commons science and health committees two weeks after Mr Cummings told the same hearing that the health minister could have been fired 15-20 times.
Mr Hancock appeared before a joint meeting of the science and health committees of the House of Commons two weeks after Mr Cummings said at the same hearing that the health minister could have been fired 15-20 times
The former special adviser to the prime minister accused the health minister of repeatedly lying about PPE shortages and testing care homes.
Mr Hancock denied lying to Mr Johnson and told MPs he was always driven by an ‘honesty and integrity’ approach.
When asked by Committee Chair Greg Clark if he ever said anything to the Prime Minister that he knew to be false, Mr Hancock replied, “No.”
He said he always answered “both publicly and privately to the best of my ability.”
When asked why a lockdown was not implemented sooner, Mr Hancock said: “The clear advice at the time was that there was only a limited period of time for people to tolerate the lockdown.”
He said he had told the Department of Health and the NHS to plan on a “reasonable worst-case scenario” in January 2020, signed with Cobra on January 31, for 820,000 deaths based on Spanish flu estimates.
He said he was “determined that that wouldn’t happen on my watch” and “so in February we planned to stop that and how we would deal with the consequences when it comes out”.
The health minister, who appeared before MPs for more than four hours, blamed scientists for many of the mistakes made during the coronavirus pandemic
Mr Hancock went back on Mr Cummings’ claims that he “categorically told the Prime Minister in March that people will be tested before going back to care homes”.
He told parliamentarians: ‘We set up a policy that people would be tested if tests were available, and then I started building the testing capacity so we can deliver on that.’
After his appearance, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK said Mr Hancock “blames everyone but himself and the government for handling the pandemic”.
And Labor’s health spokesperson Liz Kendall accused Mr Hancock of “selectively citing” clinical advice “rather than admitting his failure to protect care homes”.
“He has now used multiple excuses not to test those who have been discharged from care,” she said.
Psychologist Stephen Reicher also lashed out at the health minister for blaming scientists. “If this was a proper investigation, Hancock would be guilty of perjury,” he said.
Swipe on Cummings
The government has been functioning better since Dominic Cummings’ departure of No. 10 last December, Mr Hancock said.
He also said he had no idea why the former prime minister’s assistant had acted against him.
Asked if he knew if the ex-assistant wanted him fired, Mr Hancock told MPs: ‘Yes, because he informed the papers at the time.
“Or someone informed the papers, I now know better who that was.”
Mr Hancock said it was “telling” that Mr Cummings had failed to provide evidence last month to back up his claims against the health minister.
Lab Escape Theory
There is a need for a full investigation into how the outbreak began in China, the health minister said.
Mr Hancock said he was not sure whether the theories it came from a lab leak in Wuhan were correct. He told parliamentarians: ‘We need to get to the bottom of this.’
No need to close borders
Mr Hancock said that when the virus started to spread in China, he had pushed for a ban on flights from across the country – but the scientific advice at the time was that only a ban on flights from Wuhan was necessary.
But the health minister claimed that setting up unilateral border controls at the start of the crisis would have made little difference, as such measures only work if all countries agree to close their borders.
The US and Italy imposed restrictions on their borders, but it only held up the rise in cases for about a week, he said.
Mr Hancock said China should have done more last year to prevent people from leaving the country after the virus was first spotted there.
Debacle in nursing homes
While the health minister always claimed that the government had thrown a ‘protective ring’ around care homes, he said yesterday that he had only ‘tried’ it.
He told MPs that so many patients had been discharged from hospitals to care homes in March because the government was keen to avoid the kind of hospital chaos seen in northern Italy at the time.
When asked why a lockdown was not implemented sooner, Mr Hancock said: ‘The clear advice at the time was that there was only a limited period of time for people to tolerate the lockdown’
There was also insufficient testing capacity, he admitted, so that weekly testing of healthcare personnel only started in July.
He said Public Health England’s best estimate is that 1.6 percent of transfers to care homes came from hospital discharge.
But Greg Clark, chair of the science committee, dismissed that as “a stretch of imagination.”
Blaming the experts
Scientists and consultants were scapegoated by Mr Hancock as he championed some of his key decisions about care homes and lockdowns.
The health secretary said he had received “clinical advice” that routine testing of hospital patients before discharge to care homes would produce false negatives.
He appeared to blame scientists on the Emergency Scientific Advisory Group for the delay in the shutdown in March last year.
He said: ‘It was critical at the time that the clear advice was that there was only a limited period of time that people would tolerate it, endure the lockdown… Now that turned out to be wrong.’
‘No shortage of PPE’
More than 850 health workers are believed to have died from the virus, but Mr Hancock claimed there was “no evidence” that anyone died from a lack of personal protective equipment.
He said there was “never a national shortage of PPE,” although sourcing them was a “huge challenge.”
“PPE supply was tight, and it was difficult, and it was difficult all over the world, but we made it – it was quite close at times – but we made sure that there…at a national level we had the PPE and after that distribution was a challenge for all areas.’
When asked why nurses had to carry garbage bags, he replied, “I’ve recognized all along that there were individual challenges in getting PPE, but nationally there was never a point where we ran out.”
His test target
The 100,000-a-day test target was vigorously defended by Mr. Hancock after Dominic Cummings described it as “criminal.”
He said: ‘The goal was to galvanize the system. It worked.
“The Prime Minister stood squarely behind me and gave me his full support.” Mr Cummings told MPs last month that the test target was “criminal, disgraceful behavior causing serious harm” as it dominated the government’s response. He also claimed that in order to reach the 100,000 mark, Mr. Hancock told people to ‘delay the tests so that I can achieve my goal’.
Taking credit for jabs
The health minister told MPs how he had ordered a vaccine to be developed as soon as possible in January 2020.
He also told the committee that it was his decision to increase the purchase of the AstraZeneca shot in the UK.
“The advice was to buy 30 million doses,” he said. “I said we had to make sure we had enough to protect the entire adult population, even if other vaccines came along. So I decided we needed 100 million and then we agreed on that.
“I was determined that we would manufacture in the UK with a UK supplier and, crucially, ensure that we had an exclusive contract for those critical early doses.”