Chief nurse confirms she was dropped from No.10 briefing at height of Cummings row

Ruth May says "you would have to ask other people" why she was dropped, but confirms "the rules were clear"
Dominic Cummings faced pressure to resign after appearing to breach lockdown rules. Photo: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

By John Johnston

20 Jul 2020

England's chief nurse has confirmed she was dropped from a Downing Street press briefing at the height of the row over special adviser Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip to Durham.

Ruth May confirmed she was dumped at the last minute from a planned appearance at the daily Downing Street briefing despite having attended a preparatory session earlier in the day.

It was reported at the time that May had been held back from the briefing after she refused to support Cummings, leaving health secretary Matt Hancock to attend the 1 June briefing and claim the senior No.10 aide had been following his "instincts".

Cummings had come under intense pressure to resign from his role after he admitted travelling with his wife and child to his parent's house in Durham, as well as a further trip to Barnard Castle.

But speaking at the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, the chief nurse confirmed to MPs that she had been dropped after failing to support Cummings during a trial run.

But she insisted it was common for attendees to being changed at the last minute.

"It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing but, that happened to many of my colleagues as well," she said.

"What I have to say is I was asked to attend another briefing in June but I got stuck in traffic for that one."

She added: "People are stepped up and stepped down at short notice. I know my colleagues have been stepped down too so it isn't unusual to be stepped down."

May confirmed she had been questioned about lockdown during the session, adding: "We talk about lots of these preparation questions and of course I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown.

"I don’t know why I was dropped from the briefing, you would have to ask other people."

But asked by committee chair Meg Hillier for her view on whether Cummings's trip to Durham constituted a breach of the lockdown rules, she said: "In my opinion the rules were clear. They were there for everyone's safety and they apply to all of us."

The dropping of the senior health official came after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam had suggested he did not support Cummings' defence at an earlier appearance.

He said when asked about the trip: "In my opinion the rules are clear and they have always been clear.

"In my opinion they are for the benefit of all. In my opinion they apply to all."

John Johnstone is a reporter for CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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