Matt Hancock faces a daunting grilling at the Covid inquiry today following a series of major scandals during the Covid pandemic while he was in charge of public health.
The former health secretary, who was forced to resign after breaching his own guidelines by kissing an aide at work, will be quizzed on the government’s preparedness for the virus – months after a trove of leaked WhatsApp messages revealed ministers’ chaotic response to the pandemic.
Mr Hancock was central to the UK’s pandemic-era decision-making and messaging, with his own recollections of the period likely to be a crucial part of the inquiry.
In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Mr Hancock claimed that the government had thrown a “protective ring around care homes”.
The claim was disputed and there were nearly 27,000 excess deaths in care homes in England in Wales during the first wave of the virus compared with the 2015-19 average.
Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow care minister, described the protective ring claims as an “insult to the staff, families and care home residents who were not only vulnerable but voiceless”.
Mr Hancock was also accused of cronyism after it emerged that the government had been operating a “VIP lane” for suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.
The MP for West Suffolk, who announced he would stand down at the next election after abandoning his constituents to go on the reality TV show I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here! while parliament was sitting, denied any wrongdoing, saying that his department did everything it could to get PPE as quickly as possible.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said that £12bn was spent on PPE during the pandemic, £4bn of which did not meet required standards and was therefore unused.
Official government figures published in March showed 1.4 billion pieces of PPE had been burned because they were unusable.
Earlier this year a leak revealed that important decision-making during the pandemic had been done on the WhatsApp messaging services.
The messages revealed Mr Hancock had been critical of government scientist advisers and some of his colleagues.
In one exchange he described Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Scheme as “eat out to help the virus get about”.
In another he described Jeremy Farrar, then a member of the government’s scientific advisory body – Sage – a “complete loudmouth” who “adds no value internally” as he called for him to be sacked.