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‘Health Secretary should be fired’ for ‘disastrous’ handling of Covid

Former special adviser to the PM Dominic Cummings gave extraordinary evidence to MPs about the "disastrous" handling of the pandemic in its early months.
Former special adviser Dominic Cummings giving evidence to MPS. Image: Screenshot/Parliament TV

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former special adviser, has told Parliament that “many senior people” told the prime minister he should have fired Health Secretary Matt Hancock for the “disastrous” handling of the pandemic.

Giving evidence to MPs as part of the inquiry into lessons learned from the pandemic, Cummings said there were “numerous examples that Hancock had lied and senior figures did not take the initial threat of the coronavirus seriously, then failed to meet the challenge and lied to cover up mistakes which cost thousands of lives.

“There is no doubt that many senior people performed far, far, disastrously below the standards the country would expect,” he said. “The secretary of state for health is one of those people.

“I said repeatedly to the prime minister that [Hancock] should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people.”

The Department of Health was “a smoking ruin”, he added, which was “completely and utterly overwhelmed” with no system for emergency procurement of protective equipment.

In a meeting held on the day the prime minister was diagnosed with Covid-19, Dominic Cummings said he was told the department was “turning down ventilators” because the prices had increased and it would take months for emergency ventilators and PPE to be shipped to the UK from China.

Boris Johnson scrapped a team for pandemic planning days after taking office in July 2019 to divert resources to Brexit preparation, six months before the pandemic struck.

Cummings gave two examples of “lies” told by Hancock in the early months, first in March that Hancock told senior figures that PPE procurement was under control when it was not, then later in the summer when he said publicly that everyone received the treatment they needed. Cummings said Hancock had been told “explicitly” by both the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer that people had not received the treatment they required and “many people were left to die in horrific circumstances”.

When challenged about PPE procurement failures, Hancock blamed NHS England and the treasury, Cummings said, and insisted it wasn’t his fault. As a result the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, allegedly told Cummings he had “lost faith in the secretary of state’s honesty in these meetings”.

Cummings was fired as special adviser in December 2020 after he was accused of leaking information to the press to damage the prime minister. He was previously forced to publicly explain his actions after driving across the country during lockdown while sick with Covid-19, actions he said he took to protect his family.

He added while there were individual failures in government which led to preventable deaths during the pandemic, there was also a “system failure” in which he himself also failed.

“If you dropped Bill Gates or someone like that into that job on the first of March the most competent people in the world you could possibly find, any of them would have had a complete nightmare,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the prime minister made some very bad misjudgements and got some very serious things wrong. It’s also the case there is no doubt that he was extremely badly let down by the whole system and it was a system failure of which I include myself in that as well. I also failed.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.