Matt Hancock should have been sacked for the way he acted in the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic, former No.10 adviser Dominic Cummings has said.
Cummings, who was Boris Johnson’s chief political aide last year, said he had advised the prime minister to fire the health secretary “for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly”.
Talking about the way government handled the outbreak of Covid-19 last year before a joint session of the health and social care and science and technology select committees, Cummings said: “I think that there is no doubt many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect.
“I think the secretary of state for health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the prime minister he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people.”
Asked if he could prove his allegation that Hancock had lied, Cummings said there were “numerous examples”.
“In the summer, he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required. 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,” he said.
He also said Hancock had assured him and the prime minister – around the time both were diagnosed with Covid-19 in late March – in a cabinet room meeting that the UK had access to the personal protective equipment it needed.
According to Cummings, when it later emerged that there was a PPE crisis, Hancock insisted it was not his own fault but blamed chancellor Rishi Sunak and Simon Stevens, then-chief executive of NHS England.
The former adviser said he had asked then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to investigate Hancock's claims. He said Sedwill found the claims to be untrue and told him: "I have lost confidence in the honesty of the secretary of state in these meetings."
Cummings was extremely critical of the Department of Health and Social Care, which he has previously described as a “smoking ruin”.
DHSC procurement 'completely hopeless'
Asked why he had used that description, the former spad said: “The procurement system with which they were operating was just completely hopeless. There wasn’t any system set up to deal with proper emergency procurement.”
He said the department had turned down offers to buy ventilators because suppliers had marked their prices up, and that officials had told him PPE supplies would take months to arrive because they were being shipped from overseas “because that’s how we always do it”. He said he had instructed officials to commandeer planes to collect supplies from China, and that he was shocked no one else had done so.
“The whole system was like wading through treacle,” he said.
“There wasn’t an emergency fast-track process for people to deal with these kinds of things That’s why I described it as a smoking ruin and that’s why the cabinet secretary quite rightly said ‘We’ve got to divvy up the secretary of state’s job, because there’s just multiple huge things here that are all being dropped – testing, ventilators, PPE, vaccines, drugs, you name it. Because it was clear that the department was just completely and utterly overwhelmed.”
CSW has asked DHSC for comment on Cummings’s allegations against Matt Hancock, and the state of procurement systems.