TORY Health Secretary Matt Hancock was ‘lying through his teeth to MPs when he claimed there was no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage during the pandemic’, the GMB union alleged yesterday.
Hancock was grilled by the Science and Technology and Health Select Committees for four hours beginning at 9.30am yesterday morning.
He was taken up over the total chaos at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in 20,000 care home deaths and over 127,000 UK deaths in total.
The Health Secretary claimed during his questioning that ‘there was never a point at which NHS providers couldn’t get access to PPE’.
GMB said that its members across the NHS reported shortages of PPE on numerous occasions and GMB contacted the Department of Health and Social Care on several occasions to raise this.
GMB said: ‘At one stage GMB NHS members were even issued with emergency guidance advising people to re-use disposable PPE!’
Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, alleged: ‘Matt Hancock either has no idea what happened under his watch during the pandemic, or he is lying through his teeth.
‘Our NHS members have been let down by the government throughout the crisis – and lack of proper PPE is probably their number one complaint.
‘Many were left terrified for their lives treating Covid positive patients with either inadequate or non-existent PPE.
‘It appears Mr Hancock is either too incompetent or too untrustworthy to remain Health Secretary.’
Hancock was hauled before the committee after accusations by former government advisor Dominic Cummings.
Cummings said that there were 15-20 issues why Hancock should be sacked.
When questioned over the issue of NHS and care home staff dying because of lack of PPE Hancock said: ‘I don’t deny at all that there were challenges in individual areas. There was never a national shortage of PPE.’
Asked by Labour MP for Luton, Sarah Owen why companies that had ‘zero experience’ in PPE were called on to produce it, Hancock said ministers looked to procure it ‘from anybody who could offer it’.
Owen continued: ‘Mr Cummings came here and painted a picture of absolute chaos.’
She asked: ‘What was the chain of command when it came to purchasing PPE and distribution? I ask because that is a key failing that the families of the 850 healthcare workers that have died deserve to know. Their family members went to work unprotected, or not as protected as they should have been.’
Avoiding the question Hancock replied: ‘There is no evidence that I have seen that a shortage of PPE provision led to anybody dying of Covid. Sadly so many health and social care workers have died during this pandemic and that is because they were often at the front line. Of course PPE was important.’
Cummings had alleged that Hancock ‘lied’, telling the Tory PM Johnson in March 2020 that all residents in England discharged from hospital would be tested, when he knew that there was not the capacity to do so.
When questioned Hancock denied that he had assured that care home residents would all be tested, saying that he had said that they would all be tested ‘once we had built up the testing capacity to do so’ – admitting that there was no testing capacity at the time the transfers took place.
Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Greg Clark said that one of the charges ‘that Dominic Cummings made orally towards you was about testing in care homes.
‘So specifically did you tell the Prime Minister in March that people in hospitals would be tested before they went back into care homes?’
Hancock replied: ‘We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available. Then I set up building the testing capacity to be able to deliver on that.’
Greg Clark then asked Hancock whether a letter from NHS England to NHS trusts on 17 March 2020 ordering them to urgently discharge all inpatients who were medically fit was a joint decision with ministers.
Greg Clark said: ‘Everyone agrees if we’d known more or acted earlier, that would have been better. We’ve also established that we had inadequate testing capacity.’
Clark said that ‘another lesson should be learned’, saying the discharging of infected patients into care homes was ‘one of the major faults in the first attempts to handle the pandemic’.
He asked Hancock what he meant when he said previously ‘we tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes’.
The Health Secretary responded: ‘I think the most important words in that sentence are that “we tried to”.
‘The testing capacity at that time was around 1,000 a day,’ Hancock said.
Clark asked: ‘You knew that there wasn’t the capacity there to do it, but did you communicate that to
Hancock replied: ‘I’d be amazed if that wasn’t the case, I haven’t seen the minutes of that meeting