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Matt Hancock Says Cummings Claim That He Lied During Pandemic Planning Is "Not True"

4 min read

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has struck back at Dominic Cummings, describing the allegation that he lied several times during the coronavirus pandemic as false.

Cummings, the former chief aide to the Prime Minister, launched a series of attacks on Hancock during an extraordinary seven-hour evidence session with MPs on Wednesday. 

Cummings accused Hancock of "lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet Room and publicly" and said that he should have been sacked 15-20 times.

He claimed that Mark Sedwill, the former Cabinet Secretary, said he had "lost confidence" in Hancock's honesty after a meeting about the government's PPE supplies early in the pandemic in which the health secretary refused to accept responsibility for shortages in hospitals.

He singled out Hancock as a "senior" member of government who "performed far, far, disastrously below the standards that the country has a right to expect" during the pandemic response.

But Hancock told the House of Commons on Thursday that Cummings' allegations were "unsubstantiated". 

"These allegations were put yesterday and that were repeated by the right honourable gentleman are serious allegations," he said in response to an Urgent Question by Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

"I welcome the opportunity to come to the House and put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true and that I've been straight with people in public and in private throughout".

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 a health secretary in a pandemic".Hancock said the government had taken an "approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and of what we don't know" and defended his visibility during the pandemic.

"Since last January, I have attended this House over sixty times," he said.

"With the Prime Minister we have together hosted 84 press conference, I've answered 2,667 contributions to this House, and answered questions from colleagues, the media and the public and I'll keep on with this spirit of openness and transparency throughout".

In his remarks to MPs, Hancock said "setting and meeting ambitious targets is how you get stuff done in government" in an apparent swipe at Cummings, who on Wednesday said Hancock's target early in the pandemic of testing 100,000 people a day was "criminal" and caused "serious harm".

Another claim made by Cummings on Wednesday was that Hancock lied to his government colleagues about what was going on in care homes during the early months of the pandemic.

He alleged Hancock assured them that people being discharged from hospital would be tested for the virus before going to care homes, only for the rest of government to discover that wasn't true.

"Now the government rhetoric was 'we put a shield around care homes' and 'blah, blah, blah'  it was complete nonsense," Cummings said.

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, has challenged Hancock to confirm when testing on discharge from hospitals and care homes was routinely offered, following Cummings allegation that patients were sent straight back into care homes with Covid-19.

The health secretary did not give a date, saying that the government has published the details of their approach and they work with the care home sector to keep people safe.

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas MP asked for the government to publish its internal "lessons learned" review, carried out by the Department of Health and Social Care.

She said the refusal to release it and to let the public scrutinise it, is an "insult to bereaved family members" who don't want other families to suffer the same experience as them.

Hancock said there would be a full inquiry and she should be discussing the vaccine programme and urging her constituents to take it.

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