Dominic Cummings: PPE crisis a 'smoking ruin' and vaccine programme only successful as not run by Health Department

  • Video report from ITV News reporter Romilly Weeks

The UK's coronavirus vaccination programme has only been a success because it was not run by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Dominic Cummings has said.

Boris Johnson's former chief adviser, giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, suggested the department was to blame for PPE supply issues at the start of the pandemic - leading the government to take vaccine procurement out of DHSC's hands.

Mr Cummings told MPs that "in spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that."

He said supply issues with PPE meant he, along with the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, argued that vaccine procurement needed a separate taskforce.

"It is not coincidental that we had to take it out of the Department of Health. We had to have [the Vaccines Taskforce] authorised very directly by the Prime Minister," he said.

The UK has since rolled out one of the world's most successful vaccination programmes, with 25 million people having had at least one dose.

Mr Cummings said procurement issues in the Department for Health were related to "serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics".

"We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail - a debacle.

"Therefore Patrick Vallance, the Cabinet Secretary, me and some others said 'obviously we should take this out of the Department of Health, obviously we should create a separate taskforce and obviously we have to empower that taskforce directly with the authority of the Prime Minister."'

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener said Mr Cummings' words laid 2020's PPE crisis at Health Secretary Matt Hancock's door.

The health secretary had previously claimed some of the credit for the UK's vaccine rollout success, saying he overruled advice from officials by ordering 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, rather than 30 million as had been advised.

He also said his desire to order as much vaccine as possible as early as possible was influenced by Matt Damon movie Contagion, which helped demonstrate to him the importance of securing enough vaccines.

Responding, the Department for Health and Social Care said: “DHSC worked to get the Vaccines Taskforce established - it was a massive team effort.

"Everyone in DHSC was and is spending their time focused on saving lives, expanding the world leading vaccine rollout and getting through this pandemic.”

The former top aide also told MPs the government was unable to make rapid decisions on science funding at the start of the pandemic due to being held back by EU legislation.

"In February, March, April last year there was no entity in the British - zero entities, including the prime minister himself - who could make rapid decisions on science funding minus horrific EU procurement, state aid etc, etc laws," he said.

"No entity in the British state that could operate at scale and at pace and that was obviously disastrous.

"One of the most obvious lessons of last year is that a) we should go to extreme lengths to try to de-bureaucratise the normal system

"Secondly, you need to have an emergency process where an entity of the state can actually move at speed and scale to do all sorts of things - buying and procurement and whatnot."