The health secretary Matt Hancock today insisted he promised the prime minister and his former chief aide Dominic Cummings only that all elderly and vulnerable patients would be tested for Covid on discharge to a care home when there was adequate testing capacity, and not with immediate effect. This is Hancock’s defence to Cummings’s charge that he lied to him and the PM when promising to test patients prior to them going to a care home. But I understand Cummings has documentary evidence that as late as May last year he and the PM feared they had been misled by Hancock about how he would protect the elderly in care homes, and that he was guilty of “negligence”.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston explains how 'if MPs think Matt Hancock has been fast and loose with the truth then that is a big problem'
Cummings says Hancock made an unconditional promise not to send potentially infected patients into care homes. The problem for Hancock is - I understand - that Dominic Cummings has documents showing Matt Hancock was summoned by the prime minister’s office to 10 Downing Street on 3 May, for a meeting on 4 May, to explain whether he had misled Cummings, the PM and the then cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill on testing patients before discharge into care homes and also about further testing of residents and staff in care homes.
A source says there was a fear in Downing Street that Mr Hancock’s “negligence” had “killed people in care homes” (a charge which the Department of Health has denied). The term “negligence” is used in the documents. Downing Street officials asked for information from the Department of Health to understand what had gone wrong. Cummings was and is convinced Hancock had misled him and the PM about how he was planning to keep infected patients out of care homes - where there have been more than 40,000 deaths involving Covid19 according to the Office for National Statistics.
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Hancock however said at a press conference today that it was only possible to test those leaving hospitals when he had hit the target he had set of hitting 100,000 tests per day by the end of April. But Cummings says the precise opposite is true, that Hancock’s obsession with hitting the testing target distracted from the imperative of protecting the elderly and vulnerable in care homes. He also argues that Hancock’s fixation on that target was counter-productive to expanding testing capacity in a more sustainable way. Cummings told MPs yesterday that an SAS commanding officer Alex Cooper had been drafted in to expand testing capacity, but that Hancock’s 100,000 target undermined Cooper’s work. I asked the Department of Health for a comment on the Downing Street care homes meeting. They have so far declined to give one. Hancock said all these issues would eventually be examined by the promised public inquiry.
UPDATE 9:45pm I have now had this non-committal response from a source close to the health secretary. It does not add to our sum of knowledge. “We do not recognise this at all. The Health Secretary has had many meetings with the PM across a range of issues throughout the pandemic as you would expect“.