MPs have all the evidence they need on Hancock’s lies and failures
We don’t need more information from Dominic Cummings to establish the truth, argues Sam Bright
“I’m grateful, and it was important, for me to explain what really happened,” Health and Social Affairs Secretary Matt Hancock said in his closing remarks to MPs today. that they were questioning his file during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to questions for four and a half hours, Hancock has spent much of his time defending the accusations made by Dominic Cummings two weeks ago. The former Downing Street chief aide pilloried his former colleague – accusing Hancock of repeatedly lying to authorities, especially about the policy that NHS patients returned to nursing homes in start of the pandemic without being tested.
What unfolded this morning and early afternoon was a particular paradox in which Hancock and many MPs criticized Cummings’ testimony, while simultaneously proving its validity.
Indeed, from the outset, the co-chairs of the Expanded Committee on Health, Science and Technology – Conservative MPs Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt – made it clear that Cummings did not substantiate his claims with written evidence.
This, they said, meant that all his claims were to be treated as “unproven”. While several of Cummings’ claims require physical evidence to verify their accuracy, many can be confirmed by public information. Clark and Hunt’s decision to downgrade all Cummings evidence was therefore an act of revisionism that unduly benefited Hancock.
This was revealed when MPs insisted on Hancock’s details. Regarding nursing homes, for example, Cummings suggested that Hancock had promised that all NHS patients would be tested for COVID-19 before being referred to social care facilities – a policy he did not failed when Cummings and Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street after contracting COVID-19 in April last year.
Hancock does not deny the substance of the claim, and he did not do so until today’s committee. Pressed again today, he said it was “quite normal” for a secretary of state to make a promise and then work to make sure it is kept. In other words: it is quite normal for a promise not to be immediately kept.
An additional claim, offered today, was that the clinical opinion recommended in March last year that NHS patients without symptoms should not be tested, due to the high likelihood of a false negative result.
However, as revealed Signing time a Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) whistleblower yesterday alleges Health Minister Helen Whately ‘relied on’ Public Health England (PHE) to change her advice regarding tests offered to NHS patients returned to nursing homes. Before political pressure, it is claimed, “the initial advice was that people should not be released from homes and hospitals without being tested.” This suggests that the aversion to COVID testing was political, not clinical.
Matt Hancock “remove”COVID dataministriessaid the whistleblower
Hancock was asked about the claims by Labor MP Rebecca Long-Bailey, who asked if the testing guidelines had been relaxed due to pressure from DHSC. “Not that I know of,” Hancock said in response.
Not knowing “whether any of the ministers in your government lobbied a public health organization to endanger people, resulting in many deaths is unacceptable and deeply insulting to grieving families,” said epidemiologist and academic Deepti Gurdasani on Twitter. “How not to remember it?” And how is this a valid answer? “
In fact, many details seem to have escaped the memory of the Secretary of Health. A key part of Cummings’ testimony was that Johnson berated Hancock when the first returned from illness and found people were still being sent from hospitals to social care facilities without testing.
“Not that I remember,” was Hancock’s response, when presented with this claim – another half-denial that leaves open the possibility that Cummings’ testimony was quite correct but simply overlooked by the Secretary of State, conveniently or otherwise.
Either way, the facts remain that hundreds of patients have been released from hospitals to nursing homes despite Hancock’s promise to stop the practice. Almost half (43%) of those polled in the Queen’s Nursing Institute survey said they took untested hospital patients to their care home before the mandatory testing was introduced before discharge on April 16. Meanwhile, a fifth (21%) said they were forced to accept patients who tested positive for COVID-19.
As for Hancock’s alleged lies, it is difficult to definitively prove whether he deliberately misled the PM and officials. However, it is patently clear that he has launched a misleading account today, regarding the National Audit Office (NAO) report released last November on the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
Hancock alleged that the NAO report essentially absolved his department of blame and suggested that there had been no nationwide shortage of PPE at any time during the crisis. In reality, the NAO report was more nuanced and damning. He said the DHSC mistakenly believed that existing stocks of PPE would be able to meet increased demand, and only realized in late March-early April that the NHS supply chain could not not getting and distributing PPE quickly enough.
As a result, health workers – of whom at least 8,152 contracted COVID-19 and 126 died of the disease – “felt they were not adequately protected during the height of the first wave of the pandemic.” , indicates the report.
Additionally, while Hancock claims there was no nationwide shortage of PPE, the guidelines released by PHE in April 2020 was clear that “PPE reuse should be implemented until confirmation of adequate replenishment is in place … Compromise is needed to optimize supply in times of extreme scarcity,” he said.
Ultimately, the relationship between Her Majesty’s government and the truth is further removed than ever, as is clearly demonstrated today.
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