(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic, rejecting allegations from Boris Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings that he made crucial mistakes over care homes.
Hancock told members of Parliament he acted with “honesty and integrity” throughout the crisis, and denied Cummings’s claims that he lied to Johnson about testing people being moved into care homes -- one of the most controversial aspects of the government’s early handling of the pandemic.
“We did all that we could to support care homes,” Hancock told Parliament’s joint health and science committee probe into the government’s Covid response. The U.K. has recorded more than 127,000 deaths so far.
Though the rapid rollout of vaccines this year has shifted the narrative in British politics, ministers faced intense criticism early in the pandemic -- including over the delay in ordering the first lockdown in March 2020 and the lack of testing available to control the spread of infections.
During seven hours of testimony to the same panel last month, Cummings -- who had a front-row seat to much of the pandemic decision-making before leaving government late last year -- accused Hancock of being “disastrously incompetent” and said he should have been fired for “15 to 20 things.”
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One of his most explosive claims was that Hancock allegedly promised ministers that people would be tested before they were moved from hospitals into care homes. Cummings said the fact they weren’t shocked Johnson when he left hospital in April 2020 following his own battle with the disease.
The accusation lies at the heart of some of the most intense criticism of the government. Care homes were among the worst hit early in the crisis despite the government’s claim to have put a “shield” around the facilities. Cummings called that claim “nonsense” and said the opposite was true.
In his testimony to Parliament, Hancock acknowledged that people were moved to care homes without being tested but said he was acting on clinical advice -- and that his promise to the prime minister was that such people would be tested when sufficient capacity became available.
“It was very hard,” Hancock said. “All these deaths in care homes -- each and every death in a care home -- weighs heavily on me, and it always will.”Hancock said he had been told by scientists at the time that tests could give false negatives, and the four-day turnaround on test results could mean they could test negative but then catch Covid in the interim, creating more risk for care homes if they were then regarded as not having the virus.
Evidence has since shown that the strongest route of the virus into care homes was via community transmission, Hancock said. “So it was staff testing that was the most important thing,” which the government ordered as soon as tests were available, Hancock said.Greg Clark, chair of the science committee, said Cummings had so far failed to provide evidence for his allegations against Hancock, which the health secretary said is “telling.”
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