Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Has Matt Hancock just had a good idea?

(Covid Inquiry)

Matt Hancock’s evidence to the Covid inquiry was some of the most explosive we’ve seen so far. It was largely damaging to anyone who wasn’t Matt Hancock, naturally, but the former health secretary did induce some rather big cringes from all present when his voice cracked as he said ‘I’m not very good at talking about my emotions’. He also apologised to all those who had lost loved ones. Hancock did offer some important insights into the mistakes made at crucial moments in the run-up to the pandemic.

He also backed the idea of a resilience minister who can work on planning rather than being distracted by the many other priorities in government

He told the inquiry that it was an ‘absolute tragedy’ that the planning had focused more on how to deal with large numbers of dead people, rather than on how to prevent so many dying in the first place. ‘The absolutely central problem with the planning in the UK was that the doctrine was wrong. The doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster. Can we buy enough body bags? Where are we going to bury the dead? That was completely wrong.’ Instead, he argued that ‘central to pandemic planning’ should have been ‘how do you stop the virus spreading?’ He said that planners did not believe that ‘we’ve got to be ready to hit a pandemic hard: that we’ve got to be able to take action – lockdown action if necessary, that is wider, earlier, more stringent than feels comfortable at the time. And the failure to plan for that was a much bigger flaw in the strategy than the fact that it was targeted at the wrong disease’.

One dramatic claim was that the health service came ‘extremely close – within hours – of running out of medicines for intensive care during the pandemic’, and that the only reason they didn’t run out was because of the preparations made for medicine supply in the planning for a no-deal Brexit.

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