How Matt Hancock tried to rebut Dominic Cummings’ Covid claims

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has struck back at Dominic Cummings and his slew of allegations, saying the Government has improved since the former aide’s departure from No 10.

The Cabinet minister on Thursday denied a series of claims which Mr Cummings hurled at him when appearing before the same committee of MPs investigating the pandemic response.

Mr Cummings, the Brexit-campaigner who left Downing Street in December, had accused the Health Secretary of lying, failing on care homes and “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” on testing.

But a senior MP chairing the committee said Mr Cummings’ claims would remain unproven because he has failed to provide supporting evidence.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee (House of Commons/PA)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Hancock said he has “no idea” why he was targeted by the former aide but was aware he wanted him sacked, suggesting the aide briefed his desires to newspapers.

“I think the best thing to say about this, and this will be corroborated by lots of people in Government, the best thing to say, is that Government has operated better in the past six months,” the minister said.

Here is how the Health Secretary sought to rebut Mr Cummings’ claims at the joint Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committees:

– A litany of lies

Mr Cummings accused the Health Secretary of repeated lying, saying he was backed up by then cabinet secretary Lord Sedwill.

But Mr Hancock denied ever intentionally misleading the Prime Minister, flatly stating when asked if he had: “No.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with his then aide Dominic Cummings (Victoria Jones/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) with his then aide Dominic Cummings (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Throughout this I have got out of bed every morning with the view and the attitude that my job is to do everything I could to save lives and get this country out of the pandemic,” he added.

“I tried to do that with an approach of honesty and integrity and critically answering questions both in public and in private to the best of my ability.”

– Care home chaos

Mr Cummings alleged that the Health Secretary’s claim that he put a “shield” around care homes was “complete nonsense”.

He said that Mr Hancock told the Prime Minister “categorically in March that people will be tested before they went back to care homes”.

But Mr Hancock told the MPs: “We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available, then I set about building the testing capacity for us to be able to deliver on that.”

He argued the “challenge was not just that we didn’t have the testing capacity” but there were concerns that people could falsely be told they did not have the disease.

Mr Hancock also said he cannot recall Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressing surprise about the care home situation when he returned from hospital in April.

“Not that I can remember,” the Health Secretary said.

– Testing interference

Mr Cummings accused him of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour” by allegedly interfering with the NHS test and trace system in order to hit his “stupid” 100,000 daily testing target.

The Health Secretary defended the target, saying: “The purpose of the target was to galvanise the system.

“It worked.

Members and employees of the English National Opera take part in the Government’s Covid-19 rapid screening programme using government supplied lateral flow tests (Ian West/PA)
Members and employees of the English National Opera take part in the Government’s Covid-19 rapid screening programme using Government-supplied lateral flow tests (Ian West/PA)

“The Prime Minister was absolutely four-square behind me and gave me his full, whole-hearted support in hitting this target because he, like me, knew we needed a radical increase in testing.”

– Protective equipment shortages

Mr Cummings told MPs there was “constant, repeated lying” about personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.

The Health Secretary denied there were national shortages and said he did not blame problems on Chancellor Rishi Sunak or NHS chief Sir Simon Stevens.

He added that his whole approach to the pandemic has been that “this is a team effort” and you “can’t respond to a pandemic, just by pointing fingers”.

– Blaming the science

Mr Cummings alleged the minister was using the “following the science” motto as a means to blame the scientists for failings.

“My approach throughout has been that we are guided by the science, I try not to say that we follow the science,” Mr Hancock responded.

“I take full responsibility for the decisions that not only I take, but that are taken in my name as secretary of state and across the health family, and the NHS, Public Health England, in the department, and I know the Prime Minister feels very strongly the same.”

– The NHS overwhelmed

Mr Cummings said the Health Secretary lied by saying all patients got the Covid treatment they needed during the first wave, despite advisers’ briefings to the contrary.

Mr Hancock responded: “There was no point at which I was advised, and I’ve taken the trouble to check with the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser, there was no point at which I was advised that people were not getting the treatment they needed.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the ExCel centre in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“On the contrary, one of the things that we succeeded in doing in the entire response to this pandemic is to protect the NHS so that people have always had access to treatment for Covid.”

– Where’s the evidence to back up Mr Cummings’ claims?

Other than his word, the evidence is not with the select committees.

Greg Clark, the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, said a deadline of last Friday had been set for the evidence the former No 10 aide touted.

“We have not received that evidence nor any explanation as to why that has not been available,” the senior Tory said.

Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street, London, with a box (Yui Mok/PA)
Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street, London, with a box (Yui Mok/PA)

“It’s important that if serious allegations are made against an individual, they should be corroborated with evidence and it must be counted as unproven without it.”

Mr Hancock said it was “telling” that the man behind the slew of allegations had not produced any evidence to back up the claims.