Dominic Cummings, a former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, said the UK Government failed during the pandemic.
By Democrat reporter
Thousands of people right across the UK died unnecessarily because of failings by the UK Government during the pandemic and, according to Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser.
Giving evidence to Westminster’s health and science committees, Dominic Cummings said that senior ministers, advisers and officials fell “disastrously short” of the standards rightly expected by the public in a crisis.
Cummings, who came under fire at the start of the pandemic for driving 260 miles to County Durham to self-isolate with his family, apologised to those who have lost loved ones over the UK Government’s handling of Covid-19.
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” Cummings told MPs.
“I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.”
Cummings said he regrets that he “did not follow up” and “push” on pandemic preparations at the end of January 2020, adding that it was not until the end of February that it was realised the plans were “hollow”.
The Government was not operating on a “war footing” in February 2020 as the global crisis mounted and “lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February”, he added.
The former adviser also said that the Prime Minister thought the issue was like “swine flu” and did not need to cause concern.
And he suggested that Johnson had considered being injected with coronavirus by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to prove it was not that serious.
He said: “The view of various officials inside No 10 was – if we have the Prime Minister chairing Cobra [national emergency] meetings and he just tells everyone ‘it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’ – that would not help actually serious planning.”
Crosslet House and Castleview care homes where nearly 20 elderly people died. A total of more than 80 people died in West Dunbartonshire.
Cummings told MPs, including two Scottish Nationalist members of the committee, that he is “completely baffled” as to why No 10 has tried to deny that herd immunity was the official plan early last year.
He said: “It’s not that people were thinking this is a good thing and we actively want it, it’s that it’s a complete inevitability and the only real question it’s one of timing, it’s either one of herd immunity by September or it’s herd immunity by January after a second peak. That was the assumption up until Friday March 13.”
He said that UK health secretary Matt Hancock was “completely wrong” on March 15 to say herd immunity was not part of the plan.
“That was the plan. I’m completely baffled as to why No 10 has tried to deny that because that was the official plan,” Cummings said.
Taking aim at Hancock, Cummings said that said one of the health secretary’s lies was that everybody got the treatment they deserved in the first peak when “many people were left to die in horrific circumstances”.
Asked to provide evidence of Hancock’s lying, he told the Commons committee: “There are numerous examples. I mean in the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment that they required.
“He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak, and we were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”
Cummings said it was “completely crackers” that Johnson was in charge and that thousands of people in the country could provide better leadership than the Prime Minister.
He said the fact that the public had to choose between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 election meant it was clear that the electoral system had “gone extremely, extremely badly wrong”.
“There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two,” he said.
“And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do.”
He also said that “in any sensible, rational government” he would have not had the power he did.
“It is completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position in my personal opinion,” he said. “I’m not smart. I’ve not built great things in the world.
“It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there, just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there, and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.
“It’s also the case that there are wonderful people inside the Civil Service, there are brilliant, brilliant officials all over the place. But the system tends to weed them out from senior management jobs.
“And the problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again.”
Hospital discharge link to care home outbreaks ‘not ruled out’
Earlier this month, then Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted the Scottish Government ‘didn’t take the right precautions’.
Its latest report found mortality to be high among people discharged to care homes, with nearly a third of Scotland’s homes experiencing an outbreak.
According to PHS, 675 people died within 30 days of discharge – 14.1% of all of those discharged – and Covid-19 was associated with 21.6% of deaths within 30 days of hospital discharge.
In the 30 days after their hospital discharge to a care home, 154 people tested positive for the virus – 3.5% of all people discharged who had not previously tested positive.
The full report, which is available online, states: “Hospital discharge is associated with an increased risk of an outbreak when considered on its own.
“It is important to note that after accounting for care home size and other care home characteristics, the estimated risk of an outbreak due to hospital discharge reduces.
“No statistically significant association was found between hospital discharge and the occurrence of a care home outbreak.
“However, due to the uncertainty observed, we cannot rule out a small effect, particularly for those patients who were discharged untested or discharged positive.”
Using laboratory-confirmed cases, the report says 348 care homes in Scotland (32.1%) experienced an outbreak between March 1 and June 21 last year.
Earlier this month, the outgoing health secretary told the BBC’s Politically Thinking podcast that the Scottish Government had failed in “understanding the social care sector well enough” and “we didn’t take the right precautions” when older people were leaving hospitals.
Scottish Labour health and social care spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, pictured right, said the PHS report “has shown what we already know – the discharge of Covid-positive patients into Scotland’s care homes fanned the flames of the pandemic and put lives at risk”.
She added: “Despite the claims of the First Minister and the health secretary, it is clear that the discharge of Covid positive patients into care homes led to people’s lives being put in danger.
“The report confirms that Covid-positive patients were discharged into care homes on numerous occasions and illustrates the danger of this practice and how it led to cases in care homes.
“Thousands of care home residents lost their lives to this dreadful virus and many thousands more were put in danger.
“The Scottish Government has catastrophically failed in its duty of care – this wasn’t ‘taking the eye off the ball’, this was a colossal and deadly failure of judgment.
“Scottish Labour is committed to a public inquiry into the situation in Scotland’s care homes and is dedicated to ensuring that such a travesty never occurs again.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he warned at the time of the dangers of admitting untested residents into care homes.
He said: “Families have been treated to a longstanding exercise in spin and duplicity as ministers sought to minimise their role in the most tragic saga of this sorry year.
“Care homes were missed out of pre-pandemic exercise planning and received more than 3,000 untested patients from hospital.
“That was shamefully neglectful. The forthcoming public inquiry must ensure that nothing like this can ever happen again.”
An SNP spokesman at national level [they, as do West Dunbartonshire Council, who have at least three local care homes in their responsibility] refuse to comment to The Democrat] said: “Every loss of life is a tragedy no matter how or why it happened, and as the SNP have made clear, we are committed to a full public inquiry [this is the Tory line soutgh of the border] , to be established by the end of the year, to learn the lessons of the Covid pandemic, including the impact on care homes and their residents.
“While this report shows that a range of factors, not just hospital discharge, contributed to deaths in care homes from Covid, and that the size and type of the care home, as well as the prevalence of Covid in the community, were strong factors, we express our sympathy for all those who have lost loved ones, and for the distress and grief experienced by individuals and their families.
“Saving people’s lives has been and continues to be the priority of the Scottish Government and by beginning the vaccination programme in care homes as soon as the vaccine became available in Scotland, we have ensured that there have been no excess deaths in Scottish care homes since the start of this year, and that deaths in care homes have fallen by 95%.”