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Tue, 22 September 2020

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Chief Nurse confirms she was dropped from Downing Street briefing at height of Dominic Cummings row

Chief Nurse confirms she was dropped from Downing Street briefing at height of Dominic Cummings row

The Chief Nurse was set to attend a Downing Street briefing in June

3 min read

England's Chief Nurse has said she was dropped from a Downing Street press briefing at the height of the row over Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip to Durham.

Ruth May confirmed she was dumped at the last minute from a planned appearance at the daily Downing Street briefing despite having attended a preparatory session earlier in the day.

It was reported at the time that Ms May had been held back from the briefing after she refused to support Mr Cummings, leaving Health Secretary Matt Hancock to attend the 1 June briefing and claim the senior Number 10 aide had been following his "instincts".

Mr Cummings had come under intense pressure to resign from his role after he admitted travelling with his wife and child to his parent's house in Durham, as well as a further trip to Barnard Castle.

But speaking at the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Monday, the Chief Nurse confirmed to MPs that she had been dropped after failing to support Mr Cummings during a trial run.

But she insisted it was common for attendees to being changed at the last minute.

"It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing but, that happened to many of my colleagues as well," she said.

"What I have to say is I was asked to attend another briefing in June but I got stuck in traffic for that one."

She added: "People are stepped up and stepped down at short notice. I know my colleagues have been stepped down too so it isn't unusual to be stepped down."

Ms May confirmed she had been questioned about lockdown during the session, adding: "We talk about lots of these preparation questions and of course I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown.

"I don’t know why I was dropped from the briefing, you would have to ask other people."

But asked by committee chair Meg Hillier for her view on Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham and whether it constituted a breach of the lockdown rules, she said: "In my opinion the rules were clear. They were there for everyone's safety and they apply to all of us."

The dropping of the senior health official came after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam had suggested he did not support Mr Cummings' defence at an earlier appearance.

He said when asked about the trip: "In my opinion the rules are clear and they have always been clear.

"In my opinion they are for the benefit of all. In my opinion they apply to all."

Responding to the comments, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, said: "It's scandalous that the nation's senior nurse was silenced at the height of the pandemic because she wasn't prepared to parrot Downing Street spin about Dominic Cumming's blatant rule breaking.

"As the CNO [Chief Nursing Officer] indicates, it's unacceptable that there was one rule for Johnson's elite friends and another for the rest of us."

Meanwhile, acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said it was proof Boris Johnson was happy to 'gag' experts which disagreed with him.

"Boris Johnson is happy to hide behind experts when it suits him, but we now know that as soon as they don't stick to his script he gags them," Sir Ed said.

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