Health union questions UK health secretary’s ability to tackle pandemic
Main image

GMB, the union for health and social care staff, has questioned the UK health secretary Matt Hancock’s handling of the covid-19 pandemic after damning testimony from the government’s former chief advisor alleged that Hancock had behaved in a “criminal” manner.

In a full day of evidence before the health and science select committees, Dominic Cummings publicly accused Hancock of lying and blaming others for shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that, as the health secretary, he oversaw.

Cummings raised various concerns over the UK government’s response to the pandemic but specifically singled out Hancock for criticism, saying he should have been fired for “at least 15 to 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions” to both the public and fellow ministers.

Hancock was accused by the former Downing Street advisor of attempting to shift blame for PPE shortages onto the NHS and the treasury, claiming they had “blocked approvals”.

Following an investigation, the cabinet secretary is alleged to have told Cummings: “It is completely untrue, I have lost confidence in the secretary of state’s honesty in these meetings.”

A former favourite of Boris Johnson before leaving No 10 in controversial fashion last year, Cummings said he repeatedly advised the prime minister to replace the health secretary otherwise “we are going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe”.

Cummings also accused Hancock of “criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm” after the health secretary allegedly told Whitehall officials to ignore building the government’s test-and-trace scheme and instead concentrate on administering 100,000 covid tests a day.

The GMB has previously suggested Hancock had “serious […] questions to answer” after he downgraded the public health advice over PPE last year. The union believes Cummings’ testimony raises questions over Hancock’s ability to oversee the health service.

“We warned last year that Matt Hancock failed to get a grip on the crisis,” said Rehana Azam, GMB national officer. “What’s clear now is that it’s not only us that felt this way, but the prime minister’s chief advisor had no faith in him and didn’t believe he told the truth on numerous occasions.”

Azam said the accusations levelled at Hancock shows “a distinct lack of taste and leadership” at the health department “all the while GMB members in health and social care were fighting on the frontline, under-resourced and underprepared,” she added. “Some have even died from contracting the virus due to the lack of PPE.”

Azam continued: “There are big questions about Matt Hancock’s capacity to handle the job. Unless he answers them thoroughly, he’s unfit for office and should be sacked – if he worked in any other industry, he probably already would have been.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson said he had “full confidence” in Hancock. A spokesperson for Hancock said: “We absolutely reject Mr Cummings’ claims about the health secretary.”