Matt Hancock repeatedly lied during the pandemic and was guilty of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” that cost lives, Dominic Cummings claimed yesterday.
Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor | Steven Swinford, Political Editor www.thetimes.co.uk
The prime minister’s former chief adviser said the health secretary should have been sacked for at least 20 reasons.
The most serious charge laid against him by Cummings is that infection spread “like wildfire” in care homes because he falsely claimed that patients were being tested for coronavirus before being discharged from hospital.
Cummings also claimed that the health secretary repeatedly misled Boris Johnson and ministers and that the cabinet secretary “lost confidence” after finding Hancock was lying.
Sources sympathetic to Hancock dismissed Cummings as a “psychopath” and a “complete snake” who had never challenged the health secretary directly about his claims.
Today the health secretary is planning to make an announcement about plans for Covid-19 at a Downing Street news conference in an attempt to show he is too busy fighting the pandemic to do battle with Cummings.
At the health select committee yesterday, Cummings said that at points he called for the health secretary to be sacked almost every day.
A government spokesman said: “We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’s claims about the health secretary”, adding that Hancock had “worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances to protect the NHS and save lives”.
No 10 said Johnson had confidence in Hancock, although it did not deny Cummings’s claim that the prime minister had considered sacking him.
Cummings accused Hancock of performing “disastrously below the standards the public would expect”.
He said: “I think the secretary of state for health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly.”
Cummings claimed that Hancock had attempted to blame Sir Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, for problems with the procurement of PPE. He said he had asked Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, to investigate the claims and he concluded that they were “completely untrue”. Cummings said that Sedwill then told the prime minister that he had “lost confidence” in Hancock’s honesty and advised that he should be sacked.
“I said repeatedly to the prime minister that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people,” Cummings said.
An estimated 35,000 care home residents died during the first wave. Cummings dismissed ministers’ claims to have “thrown a protective ring” around social care as “complete nonsense”.
As the NHS prepared for the pandemic in March, thousands of elderly people were discharged to care homes to free up beds. Some homes refused to accept patients who had not been tested for coronavirus but Department of Health guidance on April 2 insisted that tests were not required.
Cummings said yesterday: “Hancock told us in the cabinet room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes. What the hell happened?” He said that Downing Street did not understand until April that “many, many people who should have been tested were not tested, and then went to care homes and then infected people, and then it’s spread like wildfire inside the care homes”.
On April 15 fresh guidance stipulated people should be tested before admission to care homes. “All the government rhetoric of ‘we put a shield around care homes’ and blah blah, was complete nonsense — quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes,” Cummings said.
While last year Hancock was credited for scaling up testing to carry out 100,000 tests a day by the end of April, Cummings argued this was an “incredibly stupid” stunt. He said that the health secretary had been “interfering with the building of the test-and-trace system, because he’s telling everybody what to do to maximise his chances of hitting his stupid target by the end of the month”.
Cummings said: “He should have been fired for that thing alone: it meant that the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall fundamentally trying to operate in different ways, completely because Hancock wanted to be able to go on TV and say, look at me, my 100k targets. It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.”
He also accused the health secretary of misleading statements about how the NHS had coped. “In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required,” Cummings said. “He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
Last night Hancock said: “I haven’t seen this performance today in full, and instead I’ve been dealing with getting the vaccination rollout going, especially to over-30s, and saving lives. I’ll be giving a statement to the House of Commons tomorrow.”