Matt Hancock has defended discharges to care homes without testing for Covid-19 in the early weeks of the pandemic, as well as numerous allegations made by Dominic Cummings, saying it was “telling” the former aide had not provided evidence.
Giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, Hancock was also asked to justify the government’s decision to stop community testing in the early weeks of the pandemic, but denied there were national shortages of PPE and said testing capacity was always being increased.
Despite verbal assurances, Cummings did not provide written evidence for a number of serious allegations against Hancock and others, including the prime minister, according to the committee’s co-chair Greg Clark, who said the allegations should be “counted as unproven without it”.
Hancock said it was “telling that no evidence has been provided” about some of the claims that Cummings made. “I can be quite forceful when I’m trying to get something through if it needs to happen,” he said. “But that’s what you have to do, and crucially, you have to bring the team with you.”
Hancock said he had “no idea” why Cummings held such a negative view of him, but said he knew he wanted the prime minister to fire him. “He briefed the newspapers at the time,” he said. He said he had “of course” raised objections about this and said he had “the prime minister’s wholesome support all the way through”.
“The best thing to say is that government has operated much better over the last six months,” he said, a reference to Cummings’ departure in November.
Opening the session, Hancock denied ever misleading the prime minister and repeated his insistence that all patients got the Covid treatment they needed, despite Cummings’ claim that the chief scientific advisor had told Hancock that was not true.
Hancock said getting hold of PPE was a huge challenge but said there was “never a national shortage of PPE” and said the government had worked to remove bureaucracy that put a limit on the price of PPE, so the government could pay “at the top of the market” for protective equipment.
He also denied claims he had assured the prime minister that all patients would be tested before they returned to care homes. “My job was to build that testing capacity and with the team we absolutely did,” he said.
He admitted community testing ended early in the pandemic because there was not sufficient testing capacity and there were concerns over false negatives. Testing was at no point scaled down, on the contrary, we were driving up testing capacity all the way through,” he said.