Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock tells the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry he is ‘profoundly sorry’ for every death caused by the virus
By ITV News Westminster Producer Lucy McDaid
The former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he is “profoundly sorry” for every death caused by Covid-19, while assurances the UK was one of the best-prepared countries for a pandemic “turned out to be wrong”.
Giving evidence to the UK’s Covid-19 Inquiry on Tuesday, Hancock said the country’s planning attitude for the consequences of a disaster like coronavirus was “completely wrong”.
He told the Inquiry: “The absolutely central problem with the planning in the UK was that the doctrine was wrong.”
“The attitude, the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster,” he added.
“Can we buy enough body bags? Where are we going to bury the dead? And that was completely wrong.
“Of course, it’s important to have that in case you fail to stop a pandemic, but central to pandemic planning needs to be – how do you stop the disaster from happening in the first place? How do you suppress the virus?”
The former secretary of state, who took office at the Department of Health and Social Care in July 2018, also said he is “profoundly sorry” for every covid death and said in his written evidence there “isn’t a day that goes by” when he doesn’t think about the victims.
“I am profoundly sorry for the impact that it had, I’m profoundly sorry for each death that has occurred,” Hancock told the Inquiry.
“And I also understand why, for some, it will be hard to take that apology from me. I understand that, I get it.
“But it is honest and heartfelt, and I’m not very good at talking about my emotions and how I feel. But that is honest and true.
“And all I can do is ensure that this inquiry gets to the bottom of it, and that for the future, we learn the right lessons, so that we stop a pandemic in its tracks much, much earlier.”
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The system government built was “geared towards how to clear up after a disaster, not prevent it,” Hancock also said.
Asked by Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the Inquiry, why he didn’t focus on the issues of low PPE stockpiles for a non-influenza pandemic and a lack of mass testing when they were raised in 2018, Hancock said: “The only answer I can give is because I was assured that we had the best system in place in the world.
“And because the system was working towards an approach to pandemic response, that was wrong. That’s why it was built that way, and that flaw, that failure, went back years and years and was embedded in the entire system response.”
He added: “There was no recommendation to resolve those problems that I was aware of.”
Reassurances that the UK was one of the best-prepared countries for a pandemic were ‘completely wrong’, Matt Hancock tells the Covid-19 Inquiry
When asked what we knew about the pandemic preparedness plan when he became health secretary in July 2018, Hancock said he was assured there were plans in place, including having a “very significant stockpile of PPE”. “And we did,” he added.
He told the Inquiry: “”The problem was that it was extremely hard to get it out fast enough when the crisis hit.
“I was told that we were good at developing tests, and indeed we were.
“We developed a test in the first few days after the genetic code of Covid-19 was published.
“The problem was there was no plan in place to scale testing that we could execute.
“On antivirals, we had a stockpile of antivirals for a flu, but not for a coronavirus…”
The MP then said the World Health Organisation had assured the UK it was “the best place in the world” for preparedness, but, he told Mr Keith, “that turned out to be wrong”.
Hancock’s appearance before the public Inquiry comes days before the former First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, will also appear as a witness.