Health

“Thousands died needlessly”: Dominic Cummings sits before select committee

By - Integrated Care Journal

“Thousands died needlessly”: Dominic Cummings sits before select committee

On Wednesday last week, Dominic Cummings sat before the Health and Science committees to answer questions on the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. From referring to himself as “not smart,” to claiming the PM is “unfit for the job,” his answers to questions have not only revealed a fragmented and ill-considered response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but a broader culture of discord and ambivalence that will no doubt threaten responses to future crises.

As Dominic Cummings provided evidence, he was asked about a number of things, including pandemic preparedness, herd immunity, senior leadership, support measures, test and trace, borders, lockdowns, and his own behaviour.

There are reasons to question the veracity of his responses, especially given his claim that he accepted the invitation to sit before the committee “to set out the truth of what happened, not to settle scores”. On top of that, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has attempted to pour cold water on the testimony by publicly questioning the degree to which Cummings was “trusted” within the government. Nonetheless, the story Cummings tells of chaos and incompetence is, for the most part, a rather convincing one – which is extremely worrying as the UK now looks to begin the process of ‘levelling up’.

One of the most serious allegations made by Cummings was directed to Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock, who was accused of "criminal and disgraceful behaviour” and lying repeatedly. Of the comments made by Cummings, those on his own qualifications, the willingness of officials to listen to advice, and the general preparedness of the government were particularly concerning.

According to former advisor, there were “many thousands of people better qualified” to lead the country’s Covid-19 response better than himself. In a similar vain, the former chief adviser remarked that he felt it was “crackers” that the civil service recruits internally, but that even though opening up the system could get the best people into the best jobs there is little interest in undertaking such reforms from those within Parliament. Needless to say, this does not bode well for a country that is currently attempting to broadly reform its industry.

Cummings also claimed that PM Boris Johnson had initially “ignored” advice to implement a second lockdown last September. According to Cummings, at that point the PM still believed he had been pushed into calling the first lockdown and feared the economic repercussions of a second would be more disastrous than the effects of the pandemic itself. His account, if verified, would lend further credence to the claims made by Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, who have stated that “the government’s combination of grotesque chaos and uncaring flippancy is directly responsible for many of our loved ones not being with us today - and the refusal to have an urgent statutory inquiry risks others joining them”.

This alleged lack of expertise and unwillingness to act was only compounded, according to Cummings, by the lack of preparedness from the central government. Far from being on “war footing,” it was claimed that “lots of key people were literally skiing” as the virus first emerged in January and February. Even amongst those who were present, Cummings said many (himself included) in the government fell “disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect. ” Making things worse, security issues meant that COBRA meetings “leaked all the time,” hampering the planning of the virus response even further.

Addressing confidentiality concerns may still, however, have failed to provide the necessary forum for productive discussion. SAGE was, at first, a closely guarded secret, with even the names of advisers concealed. However, rather than creating the perfect conditions for an open dialogue, Cummings alleges that this secrecy led to a classic case of groupthink – with the two emergent schools of thought being to let infections rise in the hopes of producing herd immunity, or to “squash the curve”. Other strategies, employed successfully abroad, were ignored with it being assumed that the British public would be resistant to the sort of restrictions being imposed in East Asia, for instance.

The extent to which Cummings’ allegations are true is yet to be seen. He has been cagey on the possibility of releasing his phone records to corroborate some of his claims, and there is no firm timeline on when the inquiry will be concluded. However, given what he has testified and what the British public does know for a fact, it would seem there is some truth to his claim that “[the] British state is set up almost by design to create a dysfunctional system”.


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