Hancock wanted to decide 'who lives or dies' if NHS overwhelmed, Covid inquiry hears

Former NHS England boss Simon Stevens is giving evidence to the Covid inquiry, which has asked about former health secretary Matt Hancock. Credit: PA

By Lewis Denison, Westminster Producer

Former health secretary Matt Hancock thought he should be the person to decide who would live or die if the NHS became overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

Former NHS England boss Lord Simon Stevens, discussing in his written evidence what would happen if NHS care had to be rationed, said Mr Hancock "took the position that in this situation he, rather than the medical profession or the public, should ultimately decide who should live and who should die".

Giving oral evidence to the inquiry, Lord Stevens added: "I certainly wanted to discourage the idea that an individual secretary of state, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, should be deciding how care would be provided.

"I felt that we are well served by the medical profession, in consultation with patients to the greatest extent possible, in making those kinds of decisions."

Mr Hancock himself is due to appear at the inquiry before December 14, as is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and former PM Boris Johnson.

Mr Hancock has been heavily criticised this week at the Covid inquiry, with one former government aide saying he regularly told lies, although Lord Stevens insisted on Thursday he took the former health secretary to be mostly truthful.

Former deputy Cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara said Mr Hancock reassured Cabinet "time and time again" that his department had a plan to deal with the pandemic

This claim turned out to be untrue, she suggested, when people in government realised the plan had given no consideration to how non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns would work in practice.

But it eventually became clear to Ms MacNamara that there a “pattern” of “being reassured that something was absolutely fine” by Mr Hancock before discovering it was “very, very far from fine”.

She also recounted a time Mr Hancock told her he was "loving" the responsibility of being health secretary in a moment of perceived overconfidence.

After he'd returned from illness, she asked if he needed any extra support.

Her written statement said "He reassured me that he was ‘loving responsibility’ and to demonstrate this took up a batsman’s stance outside the Cabinet room and said ‘they bowl them at me, I knock them away’.”

She said it symbolised the "nuclear levels of confidence" being deployed in government, "which I do think is a problem".

Civil servant Chris Wormold, the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, denied to the inquiry that he was aware of Mr Hancock regularly telling untruths but accepted the health secretary was “over-optimistic about what would happen” and that he had “over-promised”.

Other revelations from a blockbuster week at the Covid inquiry

EX-PM Boris Johnson has taken a beating at the inquiry this week, as some of his most senior aides who made up his inner circle in government, took to the stand to criticise their former boss.

His leadership style has been described as indecisive, so much so that one top adviser revealed "everybody" in government referred to him as the "trolley" for his tendency to veer around on issues.

An apparently flippant attitude toward vulnerable people and the following of the Covid advice he issued was exposed explicitly during the testimony of former communications director Lee Cain, ex-chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the deputy Cabinet secretary from the time Helen MacNamara.

Ms MacNamara told the inquiry that Covid rules were almost never followed in Number 10 during the pandemic, while notes taken at the time by former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance claimed Boris Johnson was obsessed with letting "older people accepting their fate".

Claims of misogyny within government have also been discussed at length this week, with Mr Cummings being accused of using sexist language and Ms MacNamara explaining how hard it was for women to be heard.

She even suggested domestic abuse victims are likely to have died during lockdowns because a lack of diversity among decision-makers meant women at risk were not considered.

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