UK’s Matt Hancock hits back at claims he is a serial liar

Health secretary defends himself against accusations by PM’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock answering questions on the governments handling of the coronavirus pandemic by lawmakers in London on June 10, 2021.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, SATIRICAL, ADVERTISING PURPOSES - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / PRU "
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has rejected allegations made by Boris Johnson’s former senior aide that he lied several times in government meetings on Covid-19.

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's ex-chief adviser, said last month the government should have sacked Mr Hancock for failing to deliver on his promise that elderly patients in hospitals would be tested for Covid-19 before being returned to care homes.

According to Care Quality Commission data, the policy of returning infected people to care homes was responsible for 25,000 deaths in Britain.

Mr Hancock on Thursday told a parliamentary select committee he had never told Mr Johnson something he knew not to be true.

“It is telling that no evidence has been provided yet and there’s a reason for that,” Mr Hancock said.

“Throughout this, I have got out of bed in the morning with the view and attitude that my job is to protect lives and get this country out of the pandemic. I’ve tried to do that with an approach of honesty, integrity and critically answering questions in public and private to the best of my ability.”

Mr Cummings, who was one of the most powerful men at No 10 Downing Street until his departure in January, said the government’s claim of a shield around care homes was “nonsense”.

In his testimony to MPs, Mr Hancock acknowledged that people were moved to care homes without being tested, but said he was acting on clinical advice.

He said scientists told him a four-day wait for Covid-19 test results meant patients could catch the disease in hospital, creating additional risk for care homes with no cases.

“It was very hard,” he said. “All these deaths in care homes – each and every death in a care home – weighs heavily on me and it always will.”

Mr Hancock also defended his record in procuring supplies of personal protective equipment.

Former number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings waits for a taxi as he leaves Parliament after giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee hearing in London on May 26, 2021. The British government "disastrously" failed people by repeatedly mishandling its response to the coronavirus pandemic, ultimately showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson is "unfit for the job", his former top adviser Dominic Cummings told lawmakers on Wednesday. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS
Boris Johnson's former chief aide Dominic Cummings is criticial of many of the government's early responses to the pandemic. AFP 

He said he was hamstrung by Treasury restrictions on the Department for Health buying PPE, the price of which soared early in the pandemic as governments rushed to bolster supplies.

"Despite local challenges, and I don't deny at all there were challenges in individual areas, there was never a national shortage of PPE," he said.

Britain’s successful vaccination campaign might have shifted the narrative for the government, but ministers faced intense criticism early in the pandemic – including the delay in ordering the first lockdown in March 2020 and the lack of testing available to control the spread of infections.

Last month, Mr Cummings said the first lockdown was delayed because the country was pursuing a herd immunity strategy.

He said it was only when the government realised that the National Health Service was facing collapse that it changed course.

Mr Hancock said he found it difficult to overrule “scientific consensus” that a lockdown would not be effective.

“I remember the moment around the Cabinet table saying, ‘we are going to have to tell everybody to stop all social contact’,” he said.

“I remember thinking this is the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever said. And the prime minister said, ‘yes we are, you better go and tell them’.”