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West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock says government 'worked as hard as we could to protect care homes' as he fights back against Dominic Cummings's criticism

Matt Hancock continued the fight for his political future tonight as he defended the government's coronavirus testing policy, telling the country the government 'worked as hard as we could to protect care homes'.

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's former top aide, yesterday told MPs that claims a protective shield were put around care homes at the start of the pandemic were 'complete nonsense' as part of a series of explosive allegations. He also told MPs that Mr Hancock, the health secretary, said everyone going from a hospital into a care home would be tested for the virus.

But tonight the MP for West Suffolk defended his record, and at a Downing Street press conference he said he only promised to deliver testing for hospital patients when capacity was available.

Matt Hancock press conference Picture: 10 Downing Street (47638732)
Matt Hancock press conference Picture: 10 Downing Street (47638732)

"There'll be a time when we go back over all this in great detail, but my recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes, when we could do it," he said.

"I then went away and built the testing capacity for all sorts of reasons and all sorts of uses, including this one, and then delivered on the commitment that I made."

There was not a requirement to test patients being discharged from hospital until mid April last year. Guidance in place until March 13 also stated that community transmission was so low it was 'very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected'.

Matt Hancock in the House of Commons (47616915)
Matt Hancock in the House of Commons (47616915)

Mr Hancock also told the country this evening up to 75 per cent of infections were the variant first detected in India, making it the dominant strain.

He said of the 49 people who were in hospital with the new variant, just five had had a both shots of the vaccine, and said it showed the importance of getting the vaccine when offered.

Earlier today the health secretary started his fightback against the claims he 'lied to everybody on repeated occasions', and described the allegation as not true.

Mr Hancock told the House of Commons: “I welcome the opportunity to come to the House to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true, and that I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.

"Every day, since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up and asked what must I do to protect life. That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic.”

Yesterday Mr Cummings said the health secretary should have been sacked for repeated failings throughout the pandemic during a marathon seven hour session of the science, technology and health committees.

Giving a scathing assessment of the health secretary he said Mr Hancock performed 'disastrously' below the standards expected and Mark Sedwell, the cabinet secretary, recommended the secretary of state should be sacked.

"I think he should have been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in Cabinet room and publicly," Mr Cummings told the committee session.

"There is no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people."

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