Health secretary Matt Hancock has defended himself and his department’s handling of the Covid pandemic, following explosive claims by Dominic Cummings yesterday that he ‘lied’ through the pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s former chief advisor spent seven hours giving evidence to the Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees, during which he shared his view that Mr Hancock should have resigned.
Specifically, Mr Cummings alleged that Mr Hancock lied about various aspects of the crisis. He also made allegations that there was no preparation for a shielding strategy.
Addressing Mr Hancock in the Commons session, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Families who lost loved ones will have noticed that the Secretary of State in his opening remarks did not respond to any of the specific allegations from yesterday – allegations which are grave and serious.
‘That the Prime Minster is unfit for office, that his inaction meant tens of thousands needlessly died, allegations from Dominic Cummings that he specifically is accused of misleading colleagues… on our preparedness and lack of protection for people in care homes.
‘Now these allegations from Cummings are either true, and if so the Secretary of State potentially stands in breach of the ministerial code and the Nolan Principles – or they are false, and the Prime Minister brought a fantasist and a liar into the heart of Downing Street. Which is it?’
In response, Mr Hancock said: ‘These allegations that were put yesterday… are serious allegations and I welcome the opportunity to come to the House to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true, and that I’ve been straight with people in public and in private, throughout.
‘Every day, since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up each morning and asked: “What must I do to protect life?” That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic.
‘We’ve taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and what we don’t know.’
Mr Hancock also shared figures of how many times since last January he has he has attended the House, co-hosted press conferences, and answered questions from groups including colleagues, the media and public.
He went onto vow to maintain ‘this spirit of openness and transparency’, including by hosting another press conference tonight.
Meanwhile, Mr Ashworth continued: ‘Families who have lost loved ones deserve full answers from him today. Is he ashamed that he promised a protective shield around care homes, and over 30,000 care home residents have died?’
He also asked how many of the 850 healthcare workers who died could have been saved had they had PPE. He accused the Government of letting down those who lost loved ones, and noted that they deserve ‘clear answers’ from the Prime Minister today too, and suggested that Mr Hancock privately blamed NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens on the lack of PPE provision – despite the responsibility falling on the Department of Health and Social Care.
This morning BBC Breakfast asked Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner if Mr Hancock should stay in his job if he did not give what she considers to be ‘a satisfactory explanation to the allegation that he lied about that issue’, in the Commons later this morning.
Speaking before that took place, she replied: ‘No minister who lies to the pubic, especially not with the consequences that we have, should be in their post.
‘And I believe that there are serious allegations, and that Matt Hancock has to justify why we have ended up in these circumstances.’