Hancock rejects Cummings’s ‘unsubstantiated’ attacks on his honesty

UK health secretary avoids answering question on testing of patients before their discharge

Boris Johnson and his health secretary Matt Hancock have rejected former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings's allegation that their mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Mr Hancock denied the claim that he had lied repeatedly to colleagues and to the public about supplies of PPE and about testing patients before they were discharged from hospitals into nursing homes.

“These unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true,” Mr Hancock told the House of Commons.

“I have been straight with people in public and in private throughout. Every day since I began working on the response to the pandemic last January, I have got up each morning and asked, “What must I do to protect life?” That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic. We have taken an approach of openness, transparency and explanation of both what we know and what we do not know.”


At a press conference in Downing Street later, the health secretary avoided answering a question about whether he told colleagues that patients would be tested before being discharged from hospital.

“There’ll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes, when we could do it,” he said.

“I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made. That’s kind of a normal way of how you get things done in Government. You work out what needs to happen, you commit to making it happen. You go away and deliver on that commitment, and then you can put the policy in place.”

Unnecessary deaths

Mr Hancock was, along with the prime minister, the main target of Mr Cummings’s criticism during seven hours of testimony before Westminster’s science and health committees. Mr Johnson on Thursday rejected Mr Cummings’s central charge that his mishandling of the pandemic led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

“No, I don’t think so. But of course, this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we’ve taken lightly, and you’ve got to recognise, and I hope people do understand this, that when you go into a lockdown it’s a very very painful, traumatic thing for people, for people’s mental health, for their lives, their livelihoods, and of course you’ve got to set that against the horrors of the pandemic and of covid. And at every stage, we’ve been governed by a determination to protect life, to save life, to ensure that our NHS is not overwhelmed, and we’ve followed to the best we can the data and the guidance we’ve had,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer called for an immediate investigation into the allegations, saying the buck stops with the prime minister.

"Dominic Cummings can't be the last word on this. We need to get all the available evidence," he said

“I don’t think the prime minister has made good decisions in this pandemic.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times