Matt Hancock backed after Cummings calls for sacking
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock was given a vote of confidence by Downing Street in his role as Health Secretary despite his coming under sustained attack from former Number 10 advisor Dominic Cummings during a marathon session in parliament.
Mr Cummings was appearing in front of a joint session of the House of Commons health and scientific committees - and attacked the government's handling of the Covid crisis.
He said Matt Hancock should have 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.
“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.”
Mr Cummings said Mr Hancock had failed to prepare for the pandemic, provide enough PPE and had been obsessed with targets for virus testing.
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The Health Department was quick to defend their boss.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “At all times throughout this pandemic the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and everyone in DHSC has worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances to protect the NHS and save lives.
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“We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’ claims about the Health Secretary. The Health Secretary will continue to work closely with the Prime Minister to deliver the vaccine rollout, tackle the risks posed by variants and support the NHS and social care sector to recover from this pandemic.”
And Mr Hancock was defended by fellow Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter, who works as an NHS doctor and was on the wards of a London hospital during the first wave.
He said: "I think when we look back on the pandemic, most people will remember how we came out of it rather than how we went in - and from that point of view I think people will see Matt as the minister who successfully rolled out the vaccine.
"As for planning, you have to look further back than his time at the Department. There was a report in 2016 which said there should be much more planning for a pandemic and that was not implemented.
"That was long before Matt Hancock become Health Secretary."
The Health Secretary at that time had been Jeremy Hunt who was joint chair of the committee interviewing Mr Cummings.
Downing Street insisted Boris Johnson has confidence in the Health Secretary.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “At all times the Prime Minister and the Health and Care Secretary have been working closely to protect public health during the pandemic, that’s been the case throughout and continues to be so.”
Pressed if Mr Johnson still has confidence in the Health Secretary, the 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.”
The Health Secretary was not Mr Cummings' only target during his questioning - he said he now felt the Prime Minister was not fit for office.
He said the pair’s relationship had taken a “terrible dive” after the second lockdown in October: “The Prime Minister knew I blamed him for the whole situation and I did.
“By October 31 our relations were essentially already finished, the fact that his girlfriend also wanted rid of me was relevant but not the heart of the problem.
“The heart of the problem was fundamentally I regarded him as unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes.
“He had the view that he was Prime Minister and I should just be doing what he wanted me to.”
And he warned that an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic should be held as soon as possible: “I think it’s genuinely terrible the idea of trying to punt this all off until after the next election. When you have a crisis this bad you’ve got to face reality.”