DOMINIC Cummings and Matt Hancock are at daggers drawn in a brutal row that cuts to the heart of the Government’s Covid handling.
After being spectacularly skewered by the ex-No10 adviser, the bruised Health Secretary today mounted his defence in the Commons.
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He flatly rejected one of the most damning claims – that he repeatedly lied – but wriggled when pushed about his approach to care homes.
At the centre of their clash are several contested allegations around critical flashpoints in the pandemic – of which both men had key roles.
In his appearance before MPs yesterday, Mr Cummings was utterly scathing of the Government’s efforts to protect vulnerable care home residents.
He saved particular venom for Mr Hancock, whose claim to have “thrown a ring” around care homes he derided as “complete nonsense”.
Mr Cummings blasted: “Hancock told us in the cabinet room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes. What the hell happened?”
One MP relayed the charge to the Health Secretary directly today, asking: “Did he know this discharge process did not require testing, and did he sign off this policy.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The challenge is that we had to build the testing capacity and at that time of course I was focused on protecting people in care homes, and in building that testing capacity so we had the daily tests so availability was widespread.”
He added that safeguarding care homes was “of course a difficult challenge” but that ministers “followed the clinical advice”.
Mr Cumming took the shine off one of the Health Secretary’s most trumpeted achievements – scaling up testing to 100,000 a day by the end of April 2020.
The PM’s former adviser branded this an “incredibly stupid” stunt and accused him of “interfering” with the track and trace machine to boost his chances of hitting the goal.
He said: “He should have been fired for that thing alone: it meant that 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, my 100k targets. It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm.”
Mr Hancock today defended his use of the target, insisting it helped corral efforts to drive up capacity.
He said: “We successfully increased testing volumes including through the important use of the 100,000 testing target that had a material impact on accelerating the increased testing.”
Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of being dishonest with MPs that the sick were being treated.
He said: “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.”
On the wider claims of lying, Mr Hancock hit back today: “These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.
“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”
Mr Cummings claimed that Mr Hancock guaranteed plans were in place to deal with a pandemic when there were none.
He said the Health Secretary assured: “We’ve got full plans up to and including pandemic levels regularly prepared and refreshed.”
Mr Hancock told the Commons this morning: “Throughout we have been straight with people and straight with this house.”
He added: “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.”