How Hancock wanted to decide ‘who should live or die’ during pandemic
MATT Hancock wanted to decide ‘who should live and who should die’ if hospitals became overwhelmed during the pandemic, the former boss of NHS England claimed yesterday.
Simon Stevens, who left his post in 2021, said the former health secretary thought he should make the call if the worst-case scenario came to pass.
He also told the inquiry that ministers avoided meetings led by Mr Hancock, whose performance during the Covid crisis has come under criticism.
But he rejected Boris Johnson’s claims that bed blocking in the NHS and social care had necessitated the lockdowns.
Lord Stevens was asked about an exercise to set out how the Government would respond to the ‘reasonable worstcase scenario’ of Covid deaths.
In his statement to the inquiry, the peer said: ‘The secretary of state for health and social care [Mr Hancock] took the position that in this situation he – rather than, say, the medical profession or the public – should ultimately decide who should live and who should die. Fortunately, this horrible dilemma never crystallised.’
Lord Stevens added: ‘I certainly wanted to discourage the idea
PAGES 26-27 that an individual secretary of state... should be deciding how care would be provided.
‘I felt that we are well served by the medical profession, in consultation with patients to the greatest extent possible, in making those kinds of decisions.’
The former NHS chief was also asked if Mr Hancock had been ‘truthful’ throughout the pandemic. When pressed, he said: ‘Well, I know various people have made quite strong accusations against Matt Hancock. All I would say is strong accusations need
strong evidence to back them up. And I don’t think I’ve seen that.’
Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings pushed his boss to sack Mr Hancock during the pandemic.
Former deputy cabinet secretary
Helen MacNamara also claimed in her evidence this week that Mr Hancock displayed ‘nuclear levels’ of overconfidence.
But Department of Health Permanent Secretary Sir Chris Wormald defended his former boss yesterday. He said that while there ‘were a lot people’ who thought Mr Hancock ‘overpromised’, there was a ‘small number’ who said he was ‘telling untruths’.
Lord Stevens was also asked about Mr Johnson’s claims that ‘bed blocking’ in the NHS was responsible for lockdowns. The former prime minister, in his witness statement, blamed the NHS and social services for failing to free up beds for Covid patients.
Mr Johnson said: ‘It was very frustrating to think that we were being forced to extreme measures to lock down the country and protect the NHS – because the NHS and social services had failed to grip the decades old problem of delayed discharges, commonly known as bed blocking.’
But Lord Stevens said: ‘[We]
‘Ministers avoided his meetings’
were being told that if action was not taken on reducing the spread of coronavirus, there wouldn’t be 30,000 hospital inpatients, there would be maybe 200,000 or 800,000 hospital inpatients.
‘So you can’t say that you would be able to deal with 200,000 or 800,000 inpatients by reference to 30,000 blocked beds.’
Lord Stevens also told the inquiry that ministers ‘sometimes avoided’ meetings of the emergency Cobra committee where Mr Hancock was chairman.
He said: ‘These meetings were arguably not optimally effective. They were very large, and when Cobra meetings were chaired by the health and social care secretary, other secretaries of state sometimes avoided attending.’
Asked by Andrew O’Connor KC if that was a reflection on Mr Hancock, Lord Stevens said: ‘I am not saying that was cause and effect, but that was the fact of the matter.’ Mr Hancock will give his own account of events when he is called before the inquiry.