Cummings condemns ‘disgraceful’ Hancock over coronavirus failings

Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been fired over coronavirus failings and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on the testing target, Dominic Cummings has said.

Boris Johnson’s former aide also said Whitehall’s top official recommended to the Prime Minister that Mr Hancock should be sacked.

Downing Street did not deny that the Prime Minister considered sacking Mr Hancock in April last year but insisted Boris Johnson has confidence in the Health Secretary now.

Mr Cummings said there were around 20 reasons why Mr Hancock should have been thrown out of the Cabinet – including, he claimed, lying both in meetings and publicly.

He said Mr Hancock performed “disastrously” below the standards expected and the cabinet secretary – the country’s top civil servant – recommended the Health Secretary should be sacked.

Mr Cummings said that while Donald Trump was ordering the CIA to “gazump” rival countries on orders for personal protective equipment (PPE), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was still trying to get orders from China by ship.

“I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly,” Mr Cummings said.

“There’s no doubt at all that 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 that he should be fired, so did the cabinet secretary, so did many other senior people.”

Sir Mark Sedwill was the cabinet secretary until September 2020, a period which covered the first phase of the pandemic.

Mr Cummings has previously described Mr Hancock’s department as a “smoking ruin” which could not cope with the demands of the pandemic.

“There were lots of great people in it but the procurement system which they were operating was just completely hopeless,” he said.

“There wasn’t any system set up to deal with proper emergency procurement.”

Dominic Cummings quizzed by MPs
Dominic Cummings giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons health and social care and science and technology committees (House of Commons/PA)

At a meeting on March 27, Mr Cummings said he was told by officials that the DHSC had been turning down ventilators because the price had been marked up – “it completely beggars belief that sort of thing was happening”.

On PPE, Mr Cummings said he was told in meetings that vital masks and gloves were being sent by sea because it is “what we always do”.

Mr Cummings said: “Hang on, we are going to have a peak in the NHS around about mid-April, and you are shipping things from China that are going to arrive in months’ time and all the aeroplanes are not flying? Leave this meeting, commandeer the planes, fly them to China, drop them at the nearest airfield, pick up our stuff, fly it back.

“At this point you had Trump sending the CIA round trying to gazump everybody on PPE.

“The whole system was just like wading through treacle.”

He added that the cabinet secretary said the Government had to “divvy up” the Health Secretary’s job because there were “multiple huge things here that were all being dropped”.

On the claim that Mr Hancock lied, Mr Cummings said: “There are numerous examples.

“In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment 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.

“We were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”

Mr Hancock had also blamed NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens and Chancellor Rishi Sunak for PPE problems.

Mr Cummings said he asked the cabinet secretary to investigate, who came back and said “it is completely untrue, I have lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings”.

The former aide said Mr Hancock’s public promise to deliver 100,000 tests a day by the end of April was “incredibly stupid” because it was already an internal goal.

“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.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson was asked whether the cabinet secretary had “lost faith in the Health Secretary’s honesty”.

Mr Johnson said: “The answer to that is ‘no’ and I’m afraid I haven’t had the benefit of seeing the evidence that he is bringing to the House, but I must say that I think what the people of this country want us all to do is to get on with the delicate business now of trying to reopen our economy and restore people’s freedoms, get back to our way of life by rolling out the vaccine.”

Pressed if Mr Johnson still has confidence in the Health Secretary, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Yes, the Health Secretary has been working closely with the Prime Minister throughout and has been fully focused on protecting the health and care system and saving lives.”