Department of Health 'A Smoking Ruin' Over COVID: Dominic Cummings

Peter Russell

March 17, 2021

The Prime Minister's former Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings branded the Department of Health and Social Care a "smoking ruin" for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dominic Cummings/

He revealed that the department's problems with procurement and purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and care workers lay behind Boris Johnson's decision to strip the DHSC of responsibility for the vaccine programme. In his first public appearance since his departure from Number 10 in November last year, Mr Cummings was giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee on Government plans to establish the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, known as ARIA.

'Total Disaster'

He told MPs that at the start of the pandemic the DHSC had presided over a "total disaster in terms of buying" and "how it deals with science and technology".

He said: "In spring 2020 you had a situation where the Department of Health was just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement, and PPE, and all of that. You had serious problems with the funding bureaucracy for therapeutics on COVID."

As a result, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's chief scientific adviser, came to Number 10 and said the development of a COVID-19 vaccine programme "shouldn't be run out of the Department for Health, we should create a separate task force".

'Nonsense' Would Have Held Back the Vaccine Programme

Mr Cummings said: "It's not coincidental that the vaccine programme worked the way that it did. It's not coincidental that to do that, we had to take it out of the Department of Health, we had to have it authorised very directly by the Prime Minister and say strip away all the normal nonsense that we can see is holding back funding."

He told the committee that a separate vaccine task force allowed the UK to side-step the EU's vaccine procurement strategy that looked like "an absolute guaranteed 'programme-to-fail' debacle".

It emerged today that Mr Cummings, who achieved notoriety with a 260 mile trip to Country Durham at the height of lockdown, has agreed to give evidence to a joint inquiry by two Commons committees into lessons to be learnt from the pandemic.

"I'll be very happy to come back and answer any and all questions about how Number 10 works, why I left, all the different things [and] crazy stories that have been in the media," he said.


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