‘We were protecting lives at time of extraordinary demand!’ Hancock erupts at Dawn Butler

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The Health Secretary Matt Hancock drew criticism on Thursday for telling MPs that there was never a national shortage of PPE, despite doctors and nurses reportedly having been forced to improvise. He acknowledged to a select committee investigating the COVID-19 response that there were “individual challenges”, but he suggested they were issues with distribution and not supply. Shadow Equalities Minister, Ms Butler asked: “How do you feel about the Government’s counter-fraud function for claiming there was a high risk of fraud in procurement of PPE?”

Mr Hancock told MPs: “We were buying PPE as a Government in order to protect lives and we were doing it at a time of extraordinary global demand.

“I just want to put on the record my thanks for admiration to the team who made sure we never had a national shortage of PPE. They come under pressure.”

Ms Butler interjected: “Secretary of State, this is a committee, you can do all your thanks at the end.”

Questioned about the higher death rate among frontline medics, Mr Hancock said: “We’ve looked into this and there is no evidence that I have seen that a shortage of PPE provision led to anyone dying of Covid. That’s from the evidence I have seen.”

He accepted “distribution was a challenge to all areas” and that a supply shortage was “pretty close sometimes”.

Pressed about nurses having to use bin bags instead of PPE, he said: “I have acknowledged throughout there were individual challenges at getting hold of PPE but at a national level there was never a point where we ran out.”

Labour’s shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, who is a frontline medic, accused Mr Hancock of “trying to rewrite history”.

She said: “It’s insulting to all the frontline staff who didn’t have the right masks or who were given inferior gowns. They were put at unnecessary risk.”

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Rachel Harrison, national officer at the GMB union, said: “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.”


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Mr Hancock also said he was aware at the start of the pandemic that 820,000 people could die from COVID-19 but that ordering an earlier lockdown would have meant going against scientific advice.

Mr Hancock told MPs he had “no idea” why Mr Cummings had a dispute with him, but had later become aware that he had wanted him fired.

Asked why the Government had missed for six to eight weeks early in 2020 the signs that the death toll could be large, the Cabinet minister said: “Well, I would absolutely say that we knew about this problem from the start.

“And the challenge in those early weeks of March was making a massive judgment – probably the most significant judgment that any Prime Minister has made in, certainly in peacetime, based on incomplete information, and a great pace.”

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