Health department perm sec gets ministerial direction to cover coronavirus spending

Matt Hancock issues instruction to ensure no “barrier or delay” to taking action in “extraordinary circumstances”

L-R: Sir Chris Wormald, Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty attend a COBRA briefing on Covid-19. Photo: PA

By Richard Johnstone

01 Apr 2020

The Department of Health and Social Care's permanent secretary has received a ministerial direction to cover the spending the department has needed to make to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter sent to health secretary Matt Hancock on 28 March, Sir Chris Wormald requested ministerial approval for spending which, at the end of the 2019-20 financial year, could lead to the department exceeding its expenditure limits.

Wormald said this would represent a breach of the Treasury’s Managing Public Money guidance, so he, along with NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, was seeking approval to “ensure that this does not introduce any delay to the agreement of spend in support of our efforts to tackle coronavirus”.


The letter, which was copied to cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill and National Audit Office head Gareth Davies, added: “Let us assure you that nothing in this request in any way undermines our determination to support as fully as we can the work of the government, the NHS and the care system in providing excellent care to the public and our workforce at this time.”

In his reply authorising the spending, Hancock said that “I want to put on record my gratitude for the immense efforts of staff across the NHS, the care system and in the department in tackling the spread and impact of coronavirus”.

He added: “I recognise, as part of this, the work you and your teams have been doing with colleagues in the Treasury to ensure the availability of funding is not a barrier or delay to the actions we need tot take. On that basis, and recognising the extraordinary circumstances we are facing, I am content to direct you to continue tin this way, even where this means spending in excess of formal departmental expenditure limits.”

Hancock’s reply was sent on 29 March.

The government has today also announced a number of new steps to deal with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Pregnant women in custody who do not pose a high risk of harm to the public will be temporarily released from prison, the Ministry of Justice has announced, while the first new ventilator manufactured since the government challenged industry to help increase capacity will be delivered to the NHS next week, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has announced.

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