Dominic Cummings’ charge sheet against the health secretary is long and detailed but hard evidence has yet to be produced to substantiate many of the claims. Matt Hancock has said Cummings’ claims about his honesty are untrue and that every day he asked himself: “What must I do to protect life?” Here are five of the key allegations:
1. A broken promise on care homes
At the start of the pandemic Hancock broke his promise to test people being discharged from hospital for Covid before they were sent into care homes, Cummings said. His assurance of putting a shield around care homes was “complete nonsense”, the former No 10 adviser told MPs. “We were told categorically in March that people would be tested before they went back to homes, we only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened.” Cummings added that when Boris Johnson returned to work in April after fighting Covid in hospital he was astonished at the impact on care homes and asked: “What the hell happened?” However until 15 April 2020 official published guidance was that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers or admissions into the care home”. There were 32,154 deaths from Covid-19 in care homes in England and Wales between 28 December 2019 and 14 May this year.
2. Hancock lied repeatedly including about the availability of treatments to Covid patients
“There are numerous examples [of lies],” Cummings told the joint science and health select committees. “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.”
Cummings said Hancock also gave false assurances on 25 January 2020 about the state of contingency plans which “were basically completely hollow”. Cummings said Hancock assured him: “We’ve got full plans up to and including pandemic levels regularly prepared and refreshed, CMOs and epidemiologists, we’re stress testing now, it’s our top tier risk register.” Hancock told parliament on Thursday: “I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”
3. He was too pessimistic about vaccines
Cummings said the plan followed by Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care underestimated the UK’s ability to use vaccines to tackle the pandemic.
“The logic of the official plan from the Department of Health was that this disease is going to spread, vaccines are not going to be relevant in any way, shape or form over the relevant time period,” Cummings said. “We were told it was essentially a certainty that there would be no vaccines available in 2020, something else which turned out to be completely wrong … It actually turns out we could’ve done vaccines much faster than happened.”
Cummings also claimed Hancock’s department was responsible for critical press briefings against Kate Bingham, the chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce until the end of 2020, which resulted in negative headlines last autumn.
4. He failed to buy PPE fast enough and gave Downing Street false comfort about supplies
Cummings said that in mid-April 2020, before both he and the prime minister went down with Covid, Hancock “told us in the cabinet room everything is fine with PPE, we’ve got it all covered”. There were already severe shortages, particularly in care homes, but also in parts of the NHS, with some staff feeling they were not adequately protected.
“When I came back, almost the first meeting I had in the cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short, hospitals all over the country were running out,” said Cummings. “The secretary of state said in that meeting this is the fault of Simon Stevens [the NHS England chief executive], this is the fault of the chancellor of the exchequer, it’s not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things.”
Cummings said he asked the cabinet secretary to investigate and he reported back “it’s completely untrue” and said to Cummings and the prime minister: “I’ve lost confidence in the secretary of state’s honesty in these meetings.” Cummings said he would provide notes of the meeting as evidence.
5. Hancock set a ‘stupid’ target to carry out 100,000 tests a day, which undermined the system
Cummings said Hancock interfered with the test-and-trace system to hit a daily target which he made public while Boris Johnson was in hospital with coronavirus.
“I started getting calls and No 10 were getting calls saying Hancock is interfering with the building of the test-and-trace system,” Cummings said. “Because he’s telling everybody what to do to maximise his chances of hitting his stupid target by the end of the month. We had half the government with me in No 10 calling around frantically saying do not do what Hancock says, build the thing properly for the medium term. And we had Hancock calling them all saying, down tools on this, do this, hold tests back so I can hit my target.
“In my opinion he should’ve been fired for that thing alone, and that itself meant 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 and my 100k target’. It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.”
Hancock told parliament on Thursday: “Setting and meeting ambitious targets is how you get stuff done in government.”