Dominic Cummings ‘has document from last May showing the PM thought he had been misled by Hancock over care home testing’ – despite No10 voicing ‘full confidence’ in embattled health secretary
- Matt Hancock facing fresh pressure over care home testing in wake of Dominic Cummings committee claims
- Mr Cummings alleges Mr Hancock assured PM last March residents would be tested before hospital discharge
- The health secretary suggested last night he only promised to ‘build testing capacity’ to carry out the checks
Matt Hancock is facing fresh pressure today amid claims Dominic Cummings has documents showing the PM feared he had been ‘misled’ over Covid testing for care homes at the height of the pandemic.
The Health Secretary has been desperately trying to fend off allegations from Dominic Cummings that he ‘lied’ to Boris Johnson in March last year about whether residents would be screened on leaving hospital.
After days of dodging, Mr Hancock finally addressed the issue directly last night, insisting his ‘recollection’ was he had only promised to ‘build testing capacity’ so that the checks could be carried out.
But there are reports today that Mr Cummings has a document from May last year indicating alarm in Downing Street that Mr Hancock’s ‘negligence’ had ‘killed people in care homes’.
No10 officials asked for information from the Department of Health to understand what had gone wrong, according to ITV News.
The latest claims will heap further pressure on Mr Hancock, despite the PM trying to shore him up overnight by issuing a statement saying he had ‘full confidence’ in his senior minister.
Matt Hancock (pictured) has been desperately trying to fend off allegations from Dominic Cummings that he ‘lied’ about whether care home residents would be screened on leaving hospital.
Former No10 chief Mr Cummings made the claims in an extraordinary seven-hour committee appearance on Wednesday
Matt Hancock’s ‘lies’ according to Cummings
Dominic Cummings claimed in his bombshell committee evidence that there were ‘numerous’ examples of Matt Hancock lying during the pandemic.
He gave four main examples – all of which Mr Hancock has made clear he rejects.
‘Lie’ 1: Hospital patients were being tested for Covid before they went back to care homes
On care homes, Mr Cummings told MPs Government talk of putting a shield around care homes was ‘complete nonsense’.
‘We were told categorically in March (by Mr Hancock) that people would be tested before they went back to homes, we only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened.
‘Now while the Government rhetoric was we have put a shield around care homes and blah blah blah, it was complete nonsense. Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.’
‘Lie’ 2: Patients were getting treatment they needed in first peak
Mr Cummings alleged Mr Hancock lied about everybody getting the treatment they deserved in the first peak when ‘many people were left to die in horrific circumstances’.
Asked to provide evidence of the Health Secretary’s lying, the former chief aide to the Prime Minister told the Commons committee: ‘There are numerous examples. I mean 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.’
‘Lie’ 3: Pandemic plans were up to scratch
Mr Cummings said that assurances given to him by Mr Hancock in January last year that pandemic preparations were brilliant ‘were basically completely hollow’.
The former chief aide to the Prime Minister told the Commons committee he received a response from Health Secretary Matt Hancock assuring: ‘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, we have an SR bid before this.’
Mr Cummings told the committee: ‘I would like to stress and apologise for the fact that it is true that I did this but I did not follow up on this and push it the way I should’ve done.
‘We were told in No 10 at the time that this is literally top of the risk register, this has been planned and there’s been exercises on this over and over again, everyone knows what to do.
‘And it’s sort of tragic in a way, that someone who wrote so often about running red teams and not trusting things and not digging into things, whilst I was running red teams about lots of other things in government at this time, I didn’t do it on this.
‘If I had said at the end of January, we’re going to take a Saturday and I want all of these documents put on the table and I want it all gone through and I want outside experts to look at it all, then we’d have figured out much, much earlier that all the claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow, but we didn’t figure this out until the back end of February.’
‘Lie’ 4: PPE supplies were hampered by NHS and Treasury
Mr Cummings made an allegation that Mr Hancock squirmed over shortages of PPE during the pandemic.
He claimed that in mid-April, just before he and the PM were diagnosed with having Covid, Mr Hancock gave assurances that ‘everything is fine with PPE, we’ve got it all covered, etc, etc’.
However, when Mr Cummings returned to work he discovered there was a ‘disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short, hospitals all over the country were running out’.
‘The Secretary of State said in that meeting this is the fault of Simon Stevens, this is the fault of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it’s not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things. I said to the cabinet secretary, please investigate this and find out if it’s true,’ Mr Cummings claimed.
‘The Cabinet Secretary came back to me and said it’s completely untrue, I’ve lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings. The Cabinet Secretary said that to me and the Cabinet Secretary said that to the Prime Minister.’
… And the alleged hampering of test & trace to hit ‘incredibly stupid’ daily testing target
Mr Cummings took aim at Mr Hancock over his introduction of a target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day last summer.
‘This was an incredibly stupid thing to do because we already had that goal internally,’ Mr Cummings said.
‘What then happened when I came back around the 13th was I started getting calls and No 10 were getting calls saying Hancock is interfering with the building of the test and trace system 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.’
Mr Cummings claimed that Mr Hancock should have been ‘fired for that thing alone’.
‘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’,’ the former aide said.
‘It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.
Pressed at a Downing Street press briefing last night over whether he had told Mr Johnson and others in government early in the pandemic that checks on discharge would happen, Mr Hancock said: ‘My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it.’
But he insisted ‘it wasn’t possible’ to carry out the testing until the capacity had been built – something Labour has cast doubt on saying that hundreds of thousands of tests had already been carried out in the UK by mid-April.
He also tried to bat away questions by suggesting they are best considered in the public inquiry, which will not begin until next year. ‘There will be a time when we can go into this in detail,’ he said.
Earlier, Mr Hancock told the Commons that Mr Cummings’ barrage of allegations – including that he lied repeatedly, failed care home residents and should have been ‘sacked daily’ – were ‘not true’ and he had been ‘straight with people’.
Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock ‘categorically’ told colleagues in March that people would be tested before being returned to homes.
But the former aide said they ‘subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened’.
According to ITV, Mr Cummings has documents showing the PM’s office summoned Mr Hancock to No10 on May 3 last year, for a meeting the following day, to explain whether he had misled the chief aide, the PM and then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill on the testing of patients before discharge into care homes, as well as about further testing of residents and staff.
The DoH said it ‘did not recognise’ the claim and Mr Hancock ‘had many meetings with the PM across a range of issues’.
Mr Hancock was asked yesterday if he could say he protected care homes, and was also pressed if he made the commitment on testing.
He replied: ‘We worked as hard as we could to protect people who live in care homes, and of course those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease because by its nature it attacks and has more of an impact on older people.
‘Now when it comes to the testing of people as they left hospital and went into care homes, we committed to building the testing capacity to allow that to happen.
‘Of course it then takes time to build testing capacity.
‘In fact, one of the critical things we did was set the 100,000 target back then to make sure we built that testing capacity and it was very effective in doing so.
‘And then we were able to introduce the policy of testing everybody before going into care homes, but we could only do that once we had the testing capacity which I had to build, because we didn’t have it in this country from the start.
‘We started with a capacity of less than 2,000 in March last year and got to 100,000 tests a day.
‘And we set all of this out at the time in public documents. It’s all a matter of public record.’
On a visit to Colchester hospital yesterday, Mr Johnson said the government faced an ‘incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we have taken lightly’ and ‘at every stage we have been governed by a determination to protect life’.
Challenged whether the government’s failures had cost tens of thousands of lives as Mr Cummings claims, he said: ‘No I don’t think so. But, of course, this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we’ve taken lightly.’
He said the situation in care homes – where more than 40,000 deaths were linked to Covid – was ‘tragic’, but added: ‘We did everything we could to protect the NHS and to protect care homes as well.’
He said: ‘I think it’s important for us to focus on what really matters to the people of this country.
‘I think, if I may say so, that some of the commentary I have heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.
‘What people want us to get on with is delivering the road map and trying – cautiously – to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember.’
Summoned to answer an urgent question in the House yesterday morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.
‘I have been straight with people in public and in private throughout.’
Mr Hancock also dismissed Mr Cummings’ criticism of his testing target, saying it was ‘how you get stuff done in government’.
‘I am proud of everyone in my department,’ he said.
In a brutal swipe at the ex-No10 chief, who was ousted from Downing Street in November, he said people can see that over the past six months ‘governing has become a little easier and we have been able to deliver’.
Tory MPs rallied round Mr Hancock in the chamber, with William Wragg slamming the ‘irony’ of criticism from Mr Cummings, and Peter Bone dismissing him as an ‘unelected Spad who broke Covid regulations’. Mr Bone said the premier’s mistake was that he ‘didn’t fire Dominic Cummings early enough’.
Red Wall MP Dehenna Davison also made her feelings clear as she asked a question by video link with a ‘Barnard Castle eye test’ chart in the background.
Government sources have called the onslaught from Mr Cummings a ‘character assassination’ that was ‘not backed by evidence’.
Senior Tories told MailOnline that the former No10 chief was engaged in epic ‘score settling’ and had a ‘selective memory’. ‘He should really have words with whoever was in charge last year,’ one said wryly.
Mr Hancock told the Commons yesterday: ‘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 the Health Secretary in a pandemic.
‘We’ve taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and of what we don’t know.’
He said he had updated the House 60 times during pandemic, and ‘answered questions from colleagues, the media and the public’.
Launching a dramatic bid to bring down the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary on Wednesday, Mr Cummings blamed a toxic mix of complacency and indecision for the needless deaths.
He told MPs that senior ministers and advisers, including himself, had fallen ‘disastrously short’, adding: ‘When the public needed us most, the Government failed. Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die.’
In an extraordinary seven-hour performance, Mr Cummings launched attacks on Mr Johnson, his fiancée Carrie Symonds and Mr Hancock over their personal conduct during the crisis.
Mr Cummings claimed the Prime Minister was ‘unfit for the job’ and could not lead Britain out of the pandemic.
He said the Health Secretary ‘should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things, including lying’.
He alleged Mr Hancock had lied to the PM over the disastrous policy of not testing older people for Covid before they were discharged from hospital into care homes.
The former No10 aide outlined a series of failings by him and the ‘smoking ruin’ Department for Health, including lying in January last year that pandemic preparations were brilliant when they were ‘completely hollow’.
Another Cummings ally leaves No10
Another of Dominic Cummings’ allies is leaving Downing Street in the wake of the Vote Leave purge, it emerged today.
Ben Warner, who worked on the Brexit campaign, has been one of the last aides left with strong connections to the former No10 chief.
However, colleagues have been asked to sign a leaving card for the data guru by today, according to The Times.
Boris Johnson has looked to be clearing out the Vote Leave faction in the wake of the bitter power struggle that sparked Mr Cummings’ departure
But other sources insisted Mr Warner’s exit is amicable and has been planned for months.
Mr Warner helped run the Conservatives’ general election campaign in December 2019, and is reputed to have predicted the huge 80 majority to within one seat.
Mr Cummings alleged Mr Hancock lied about testing hospital patients for coronavirus before they were sent back into care homes, in a suggestion that thousands died because of his dishonesty.
He also claimed that the Health Secretary lied about people getting the treatment they needed during the first peak last March and April – adding that ‘many people were left to die in horrific circumstances’.
Mr Cummings then accused Mr Hancock of ‘appalling’ behaviour towards chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, saying: ‘He used the whole ‘we’re following the science’ as a way so that he could always say, ‘well if things go wrong, we’ll blame the scientists and it’s not my fault’.’
Downing Street did not deny that Mr Johnson considered sacking the Health Secretary in April last year but insisted the Prime Minister has confidence in him now, as Mr Hancock disputed the allegations.
He suggested that Mr Johnson chose not to fire the Health Secretary at that point because he was allegedly told ‘you should keep him there because he’s the person you fire when the inquiry comes along’.
Mr Cummings told a joint committee: ‘One thing I can say completely honestly is that I said repeatedly from February/March that if we don’t fire the Secretary of State and get testing into somebody else’s hands, we’re going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe.’
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.’
A picture posted on Twitter by Mr Cummings shows a whiteboard in Downing Street in March last year, with a blue bell curve, seemingly representing Covid cases, skyrocketing well above a red line representing ‘NHS capacity’, predicting there would be ‘100,000+ people dying in corridors’ if no action was taken. Another graph, titled ‘Current plan’, shows a more spread out curve, which still exceeded the health service’s ability to cope, implying that the measures in place at that time were insufficient to stop the health service being overwhelmed. A third chart, named the ‘Actual plan’, shows the rate at which coronavirus spreads being suppressed, with the blue line annotated ‘lockdown to (lower) rate = delay’. Under a section titled ‘public health’ is written ‘3 weeks min – no non-essential movement’
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.’
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