Of all the people Dominic Cummings lashed with his acid tongue yesterday, Matt Hancock suffered the worst of it.
The Health Secretary was branded a liar who should have been sacked 15 to 20 times in an explosive Commons hearing.
And most gravely, he was accused of misleading the PM about the situation in care homes before tens of thousands died.
Mr Hancock will come out fighting today, with a 10.30am debate in the Commons and a 5pm press conference.
He has already issued a statement through his team, failing to refute any specific allegation but just saying: “We absolutely reject Mr. Cummings’ claims about the Health Secretary.
“At all times throughout this pandemic [Hancock] and everyone in DHSC has worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances to protect the NHS and save lives.”
His supporters will write off Dominic Cummings ’ claims as the ravings of an embittered controversialist who lost his job – and point out he carefully avoided criticising potential leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove.
But regardless of whether Cummings is a reliable witness, his statements do raise important questions for the Health Secretary.
No doubt Mr Hancock will today make a broad-brush dismissal or denial of Cummings’ claims. But if he doesn’t engage in the detail of these questions, you might need to raise an eyebrow or two.
How long did you know new care home residents weren’t being routinely tested?
Covid was allowed to flow into care homes during a crucial month last year in which routine testing halted due to lack of capacity.
Residents, new arrivals and staff with symptoms were not routinely tested from mid-March, when community testing ended, to April 15. Until April 15, not even new arrivals from hospitals were being routinely tested.
More than a quarter of England’s Covid deaths have been in care homes, including many thousands in the first wave.
Mr Hancock would later claim: “Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes.”
But how true was that – and when did he realise the virus was being seeded into the care system?
Yesterday Mr Cummings revealed he and the PM – who were steamrollered by Covid in that crucial month – didn’t know for weeks that people were leaving hospital without being routinely tested.
The ex-aide said: “He [ Boris Johnson ] came back after being ill – what on earth has happened with all these people in care homes?
“Hancock told us in the Cabinet room that people were going to be tested in care homes. What the hell happened?”
He added: “It was only in April after the Prime Minister and I had both ourselves been ill that we realised that what we were told never did happen, or only happened very partially and sporadically”.
He went on: “The government rhetoric was ‘we put a shield around care homes, blah blah blah’ – that was complete nonsense.
“Quite the opposite of putting a shield round them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.”
Was it true that everyone got the treatment they needed?
Mr Cummings said: “In the summer he said everyone who needed treatment got the treatment they required.
“He knew that was a lie because he’d been briefed by the Chief Scientific Advisor 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.”
Mr Cummings did not point to exactly where Mr Cummings made the comments and we were unable to find them last night.
But it raises questions about whether he varnished the truth when claiming the NHS was never “overwhelmed” by Covid.
Did you ‘criminally’ interfere with Test and Trace to meet your own target?
Mr Cummings accused the Health Secretary of “criminal, disgraceful” interference with the Test and Trace scheme to meet his ”stupid” testing target of 100,000 per day last year.
Mr Cummings told MPs: “In my opinion, disastrously, [Matt Hancock] had made – while the PM was on his near deathbed – this pledge to do 100,000 [tests a day] by the end of April.
“This was an incredibly stupid thing to do because we already that goal internally.”
When he returned to work after having Covid himself, Mr Cummings said he started receiving calls from people who said: “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”.
He added: “In my opinion he should’ve been fired for that thing alone.
“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.”
Expect the Health Secretary to be hauled up on the question of whether he interfered and stymied other work in government.
Did you try to blame PPE failures on everyone but yourself?
Mr Cummings said: “In mid April, just before the Prime Minister and I were diagnosed… the Secretary of State for Health told us in the Cabinet room ‘everything is fine on PPE, we’ve got it all covered’.
“When I got back almost the first meeting I had in the Cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how were were completely short and hospitals all over the country were running out.
“The Secretary of State [Hancock] said in that meeting ‘it’s the fault of [NHS chief] Simon Stevens, it’s the fault of the Chancellor, it’s not my fault, they’ve blocked approvals on all sorts of things.’”
Mr Cummings said he asked Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to investigate, but “the Cabinet Secretary came back to me and said ‘it’s completely untrue, I have lost confidence in the Secretary of State’s honesty in these meetings.’”
So it is now for Mr Hancock to answer – did you try to shift the blame? And did that have any truth to it?
Did you convince Boris Johnson not to sack you?
Mr Cummings said: “He (Boris Johnson) came close to removing him (Matt Hancock) in April but just fundamentally wouldn’t do it.
“It wasn’t just me saying this, lots of people said to him, the cabinet secretary said to him.
“Pretty much every senior person around Number 10 told him that we can’t go into the autumn with the same system in place, otherwise we are going to have a catastrophe on our hands.”
So the question is, did Boris Johnson actually move against Matt Hancock? And if so did the Health Secretary convince him otherwise? Did he have a killer argument or information that stayed the Prime Minister’s hand – or was Boris Johnson too weak to make the move in the first place?