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Matt Hancock Is "Profoundly Sorry" For Each Death Caused By Covid On His Watch

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "profoundly sorry for each death that has occurred"

6 min read

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has told the Covid Inquiry he is "deeply sorry" for each Covid death that occurred in the UK during the pandemic.

Hancock, who lost the Conservative whip after appearing on reality TV show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! last year, and now sits as an independent MP, gave evidence to the Covid-19 inquiry today which focused on his time as health secretary from 2018-2021.

He follows former prime minister David Cameron, ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt, ex-chancellor George Osborne and deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden, who gave evidence last week, who admitted that not enough focus had been given to planning for the possibility non-influenza pandemic. 

Hancock told Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, that the UK's planning doctrine to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic "was wrong". 

"Maybe I should set this out now, in my written statement, the attitude, the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster. Can we buy enough body bags? Where are we going to bury the dead?” he said.

He now concedes this attitude, which was shared across Western Europe, was "flawed". 

"I am profoundly sorry for the impact that had. I am profoundly sorry for each death that has occurred and I also understand why for some it will be hard to take that apology for me," Hancock continued.

"But it is honest and heartfelt. I am not very good at talking about my emotions and how I feel, but that is honest and true, and all I can do is ensure this inquiry gets to the bottom of it, and for the future we learn the right lessons so we stop a pandemic in its tracks much much earlier and we have the systems in place ready to do that."

Hancock maintained he was "assured" the UK was uniquely well prepared for a pandemic. “I was also assured that the UK was one of the best placed countries in the world for responding to a pandemic and indeed in some areas categorised by the World Health Organisation as the best placed in the world," he said. 

The UK's Covid death rate was five per cent higher than larger European nations including Germany and France, according to BBC analysis. Analysis from the British Medical Association found the UK Government "failed to act quickly" in response to the emergence of Covid-19.

Its report found the Government "abandoned" contact tracing in mid-March and there was a "significant delay" before social distancing and a nationwide lockdown was called. The former prime minister Boris Johnson failed to initially force mandatory face masks despite growing pressure from global health agencies.

During the summer of 2020 the "political narrative" was dominated by trying to ease restrictions as opposed to preparing for an increase in infections over the winter months. Dominic Cummings, who was Boris Johnson's most senior adviser during the pandemic, claimed his former boss was averse to implementing restrictions on people's freedoms.

Shortages of personal protective equipment were a key sticking point in 2020, and led to warnings that medical staff were not sufficiently protected from the virus. Hancock claimed he was told the UK had an abundance of PPE equipment but said it was "extremely hard to get it out when the crisis hit".

A report from Department of Health and Social Care disclosed it lost £8.7billion on PPE in the first year of the pandemic. Headline statistics from the report included £670million lost to defective equipment, £2.6billion on items which were "not suitable" for NHS standards and £4.7billion due to inflationary prices. 

Hancock added the UK also had a "stockpile of antivirals" for flu but not for a Coronavirus. Added to this, the Telegraph found the Government spent almost £1billion on an anti-viral Covid drug which made little difference to patient outcomes. 

Hancock echoed testimony from his former Conservative colleages last week, that Whitehall had planned for an influenza pandemic as it viewed this outcome as the "most likely".

He also said there was no planning to scale up testing which would have enabled the country to test thousands of people each day. "We developed a test in the first few days after the genetic code of Covid-19 was published. The problem was there was no plan in place to scale testing that we could execute."

The UK failed to build effective testing systems over the summer despite lockdown measures being announced in March 2020, the BMA said. Hancock set a target for the UK to test at least 100,000 a day on 2nd April.

The Government claimed it had met this target of testing 100,000 people by the end of April. However, Canbinet minister Michael Gove admitted this figure dramatically fell to just above 70,000 days after.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said last week that he believed there had been a groupthink in government that politicians would be helpless in stopping the virus spreading like "wildfire" across the population.

“There were no questions at any stage of how do we stop it getting to the stage of 200,000-400,000 fatalities," he said. 

“It was an assumption that if it were pandemic flu it would spread, using laymen’s terms, like wildfire and you pretty much couldn’t stop it.”

“What we did not ask is: Is it pandemic flu that we are only likely to be hit by? Could there be something [with] MERS like characteristics?

“We did not ask what could we do to stop it getting to that point where 200,000-400,000 have died?”

Hunt said his department should have given more thought to how different types of pandemics could have emerged.

Former prime minister David Cameron also told the Covid-19 Inquiry on 19th June it was a "mistake" for his government not to have prepared for a range of different types of pandemics, and instead placing a disproportionate focus on influenza.

“It was a mistake not to look more at the range of different types of pandemics,” Cameron said. 

“Many of the reports don’t mention potential asymptomatic transmission and so when you think what would be different if more time had been spent on a high infectious asymptomatic pandemic, different recommendations would have been made about what was necessary to prevent that.”

The former prime minister said it was “very hard to answer” why more questions were not asked about the likelihood of pandemics caused by other types of highly-transmissible diseases. 

Despite saying he had wanted to avoid “group-think” in government on this issue, Cameron said that as a system, they had focused on the “well-known risks” of pandemic influenza so had concentrated resources on that particular eventuality. 

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