LONDON — U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock today denied claims by Boris Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings that he deceived the prime minister about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hancock has been the subject of a series of incendiary allegations from the ex-No.10 aide, who told MPs on the joint science and health committee last month that the health secretary had lied about crucial aspects of pandemic preparedness and had overseen a “criminal, disgraceful” testing strategy.
Appearing before the same group of MPs on Thursday, Hancock defended the U.K.’s testing policy for residents and staff in care homes and denied that the country had faced a “national shortage” of personal protective equipment.
England’s care homes were particularly hard hit by the virus, and the government has been criticized for discharging hospitalized residents into care homes before being tested.
“We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available,” Hancock said. “And then I set about building the testing capacity to be able to deliver on that.”
Hancock also rejected Cummings’ claim that he had sought to blame NHS chief Simon Stevens and Chancellor Rishi Sunak for shortages of personal protective equipment, telling the committee: “That is not a fair recollection of the situation.”
And he said: “There was never a point to which NHS providers couldn’t get access to PPE, but there were huge challenges.”
According to Hancock, those included asking the Treasury to pay much more for PPE when the world was scrambling for limited supplies.
“I don’t deny at all there were challenges in individual areas,” he said, but added: “There was never a national shortage of PPE because of the action that we took.”
More than 120,000 people have died in Britain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the U.K. has also faced one of the worst economic hits, according to the OECD.
Cummings’ claims about Hancock also came under scrutiny at the committee session, as science and technology committee chairman Greg Clark said the committee had yet to receive evidence it had requested to corroborate them, “nor any explanation as to why that has not been available.”
Without corroborating evidence, he said, Cummings’ allegations “must be counted as unproven.” Hancock said it was “telling” that Cummings had yet to provide such evidence.
Cummings told the committee last month that he had tried to have Hancock fired “15-20 times,” and Hancock said he knew that to be true because “somebody briefed the newspapers; I now have a better idea of who it was.”
Hancock said he had “no idea” how Cummings’ dispute with him had developed, but added: “The best thing to say is that government has operated better over the past six months” — or since Cummings left.
This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.