But should Hancock have gone sooner?
No matter what he claimed, or however much he attempted to manipulate his previous televised and frequently broadcast words as the then health secretary, Matt Hancock manoeuvred his way uncomfortably and unapologetically through a series of car crash interviews over his handling of the pandemic last month before finally resigning. There was no getting away from one proven fact: he said what he said about placing a “protective ring” around care homes. At a Downing Street briefing in May 2020, Hancock told the nation: “So right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. We set out our first advice in February and as the virus grew, we strengthened it throughout.
We’ve made sure that care homes have the resources they need to control the spread of infection.” The facts are undeniable, though Hancock continued to deny them. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he claimed, “I said that much later about what we were doing about the winter plan.” It was a barefaced lie, but we know this government, from the top downwards, has turned lying into a contemporary normality, like some Orwellian Ministry of Truth.
Even earlier, in March 2020, Hancock said that all care home residents returning from hospital would be tested. They were not, and at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, an estimated 25,000 people were discharged into care homes without being tested. Hancock took a verbal battering from Boris Johnson’s ousted former senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, who alleges multiple incidents of “lying” by the Health Secretary. And Cummings should know; he too has “porky” history, especially over matters relating to eyesight.
Meanwhile Hancock’s torment continued as he gave evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committee. Questioned about his actions at the height of the pandemic, he frequently gave evasive replies to probing questions. In previous administrations, many ministers would have gone after just one such allegation. But Hancock had the Prime Minister’s support till the very end and only resigned after breaking his own rules, when his position became untenable. Some consider this a self-defence tactic by Johnson, who knows that sacking Hancock would have given weight to allegations regarding his own pandemic decisions. An inquiry into the handling of the pandemic is set for spring 2021, but whether we are willing to wait until then for Matt Hancock to answer the many questions he has left in his wake is another matter altogether.
What our surveys show
So, he said what he said, but what level of responsibility, if any, should former health secretary Matt Hancock have taken for the March 2020 decision to send residents back to care homes from hospitals without being tested for Covid-19? Well according to our survey, a clear majority, 65%, believe he was either fully responsible, 29%, or partially responsible, 36%. Just 17% said he was not responsible and 18% said they don’t know. Bearing that in mind, should he have resigned sooner? Once again, a majority, 53%, reckon he should have gone while 24% say he was right to stay and a considerable number, 23%, don’t know. And with the government perhaps considering that a delay will enable the pandemic to recede before it’s held to account, is setting the date for an inquiry nearly a year away soon enough?
A full 43% think it should be sooner, while just 5% reckon next Spring is too early and 24% say it will be the right time. A further 11% say an inquiry shouldn’t happen at all, perhaps considering it not warranted or because it won’t achieve anything, and 17% say they just don’t know.