6 of Matt Hancock’s biggest revelations during his Covid inquiry testimony

6 of Matt Hancock’s biggest revelations during his Covid inquiry testimony
Matt Hancock says Tory government approach to Covid was 'completely wrong'

Matt Hancock MP, the former health secretary and I’m A Celebrity contestant, faced the UK’s official Covid inquiry on Tuesday, as Baroness Heather Hallett continued hearing evidence relating to the first ‘module’ of the inquiry on government resilience and preparedness for the pandemic.

Mr Hancock, whose scandals during the coronavirus crisis include the policy of discharging Covid patients into care homes and snogging an aide in his office while restrictions were in place (for which he stepped down as a cabinet minister), revealed to the inquiry’s lead counsel that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) didn’t even know how many care homes there were in the UK.

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In the shocking revelation, the Tory MP said: “One of the central challenges in social care is that whilst I had the title, secretary of state for health and social care, the primary responsibility, legal responsibility, contractual responsibility for social care falls to local councils.

“In a national crisis, this is a very significant problem, because … I had the title, I was accountable, but I didn’t have the levers to act, and we didn’t even have the data.

“For instance, how many care homes are operating right now in the UK? That was a fact that we did not know at that time. I’m glad to say now there’s far better data, but that was one of the workstreams.”

As Twitter users pointed out, it’s a bit hard for Mr Hancock to tell the public there was a “protective ring” around care homes… when he didn’t even know how many there were:

And that’s not the only damning detail unearthed during the West Suffolk MP’s testimony…

The government did not plan to identify vulnerable people in social care pre-pandemic

When asked by the inquiry’s lawyer, Hugo Keith KC, if the DHSC had a “single coherent plan” in place to “identify vulnerable service users” across the UK and understand “how many people are in the care sector” by January 2020 (two months before the first lockdown), Mr Hancock gave another unbelievable answer.

“No,” he replied.

Well then…

Brexit ‘threat’ took resources away from pandemic preparedness planning

Ah, Brexit, the ever-divisive political hot potato which still had an impact during a deadly global health crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.

In particular, Mr Hancock told the inquiry: “I take full responsibility for the fact that, in the face of Brexit and the threats that a disorganised Brexit could do … the resources were moved across the department to focus on that threat, including away from pandemic preparedness planning.

“This was proposed to me by the permanent secretary and the CMO [Chief Medical Officer], and I signed it off.

“As a secretary of state you have a very limited set of resources, and you have to make sure that those resources are targeted at the threats that you face, and one of those risks was a disorganised Brexit and it was incumbent on the department to make sure that we were as well prepared for that as possible.”

Training for civil servants and ministers on ‘civil contingencies’ during crises (such as a pandemic) was stopped… due to a pandemic

Pointing out irony whenever he spotted it, Mr Hancock also noted that while working as health secretary, he was getting to work on establishing some training for fellow ministers and civil servants on “civil contingencies” – in other words, provision and resources to put in place to prepare for a potential future event.

It sure sounds like a practical and sensible idea, except Mr Hancock didn’t foresee a deadly pandemic and the work had to be stopped.

“I was in the process of putting one in place with the Blavatnik School of Government [at the University of Oxford] when the pandemic struck, and we stopped that work because the pandemic became overwhelming,” he said.

The “central failing”

Pointing to one “central failing” of the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – which he said was also common “with the rest of the western world” - the former minister said it was “the refusal and explicit … decision that it would not be possible to halt the spread of a new pandemic”.

“That is wrong, and that is at the centre of the failure of preparation,” Mr Hancock admitted.

He even went on to concede “there was no such thing” as a mass contact tracing system during the pandemic.

A future recommendation

Of course, the inquiry is looking to establish what lessons need to be learned within government to prepare for another potential pandemic in the future, and Mr Hancock had an idea.

“Every health and social care setting should be required to have its own stockpile of PPE [personal protective equipment], and that should be paid for by the government. Because in the early days, getting it out fast enough, when there was a sudden increase in demand … that was incredibly difficult,” the former health secretary said.

Sensible, but perhaps we should ensure the government doesn’t splash the cash on fraudulent PPE first, yeah?

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