Cummings said there was no system to deal with emergency procurement © parliamentlive
Cummings said there was no system to deal with emergency procurement © parliamentlive

Covid health procurement ‘like wading through treacle’

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) “was completely and utterly overwhelmed” in handling the coronavirus pandemic, former government advisor Dominic Cummings has claimed. 

Cummings, former advisor to the UK prime minister Boris Johnson, told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee the procurement system DHSC was operating under was “completely hopeless”. 

In an evidence session examining the government’s response to the pandemic, Cummings said he had branded health procurement a “smoking ruin” because while there were lots of great people within the department, “there wasn't any system set up to deal with proper emergency procurement”.

“On the day the prime minister tested positive [for Covid-19], we were told by officials that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because the price had been marked up. It completely beggars belief that that sort of thing was happening,” he claimed.

Cummings also relayed an example of PPE being shipped by sea from China to the UK, rather than flown by air. “We ship it because that’s what we always do,” Cummings said he was told. 

“The whole system was like wading through treacle on all of these sorts of things. There wasn’t an emergency fast track process for people to deal with these kinds of things,” he added.

Cummings claimed as a result cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill had said the office must “divvy up the secretary of state’s [Matt Hancock’s] job” because “it was clear the department was just completely and utterly overwhelmed”.

“Brilliant people” at relatively junior and middle levels had been “terribly let down” by the senior leadership, Cummings said.

“I think the secretary of state for health should have been fired for at least 15 or 20 things including lying to everybody on multiple occasions, in meeting after meeting, in the cabinet room and publicly,” Cummings alleged.

Cummings accused Hancock of blaming shortages of PPE in hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic on NHS boss Simon Stevens and chancellor Rishi Sunak for  “blocking approvals”. 

But after investigating Hancock's claims Sedwill told Cummings they were “completely untrue” and he had “lost confidence in the secretary of state’s honesty”, according to Cummings.

The DHSC has been approached for comment.

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