Boris Johnson appears to have described Matt Hancock as “totally f—— hopeless” while the UK was scrambling to increase covid-19 testing capacity last year, according to messages released by Dominic Cummings on Wednesday.
Publishing what he described as “evidence” to back up his scathing attacks on the Health Secretary last month, the former Number 10 adviser has released a number of screenshots of what appear to be exchanges between him and the Prime Minister.
They include messages in which Mr Johnson appears to have described Mr Hancock in March last year as “hopeless” over problems with scaling up testing and the procurement of ventilators.
In another exchange, which occurred a month later, he also appears to have described the Government’s handling of personal protective equipment as a “disaster”.
Cummings text [Cummings]
Cummings text [Boris reply]
He also appears to have suggested he was contemplating removing the responsibility for procuring PPE from Mr Hancock and handing it to Michael Gove.
They were included in a new blog post by Mr Cummings, who said he was publishing evidence to substantiate allegations he made about Mr Hancock during his hearing before the joint Parliamentary committee inquiry into the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Mr Cummings accused the Prime Minister of now publicly supporting the "fiction" that he was in agreement with the Health Secretary throughout the pandemic.
But his former chief aide says that the "hopeless" messages show otherwise, as do his moves to hand responsibility for vaccines to Dame Kate Bingham, testing to Baroness Harding, and PPE to Lord Deighton.
Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November during a bitter power struggle in No 10, has targeted much of his criticism since leaving at the Health Secretary.
The disclosure of the messages is likely to cause significant embarrassment to Mr Johnson and will likely reignite speculation about Mr Hancock’s future.
They include one WhatsApp exchange which appears to have taken place on 27 March last year, during which Mr Cummings expressed concern over the speed at which the UK was scaling up testing capacity.
Mr Cummings claims that at the time it was clear that mass testing and test and trace would be “crucial” to helping to contain the spread of the virus.
However, he complained to Mr Johnson on March 27 that while the US had gone from 2,200 tests a day to 100,000 within a fortnight, Mr Hancock was “saying today he’s sceptical about getting to 10k by Monday which he said [would] definitely happen on Tuesday.”
The former adviser also posted some questions for the Prime Minister
On the same day, Mr Cummings also messaged Mr Johnson to complain about the Department for Health’s alleged failure to procure ventilators, at a time when hospitals were seeing increasing numbers of patients being admitted to intensive care.
In his blog post, Mr Cummings claims that Downing Street had “already had a nightmare with Hancock on ventilators”, adding that that morning he had been told “that DHSC had turned down ventilators at this critical point because prices had been marked up.”
He therefore messaged Mr Johnson, writing: “They’ve totally f—– up ventilators. I just heard officials admit we have been turning down ventilator offers because the ‘price has been marked up’.”
In response, a contact appearing to be Mr Johnson replied: "It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
In another message, on April 27 last year, the Prime Minister appeared to call the situation around personal protective equipment (PPE) "a disaster" and alluded to diverting some responsibilities to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.
"I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on," Mr Johnson apparently added.
Mr Hancock has denied the Brexit campaigner’s allegations and said last week it was "telling" that he was yet to provide the joint Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee with written evidence.
When he appeared before the same committee last week, Mr Hancock said he had seen no evidence to suggest any medics died because of a lack of PPE.
But Mr Cummings said in his blog post that the Health Secretary sought to blame NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Cabinet Office for a "PPE disaster" in April last year.
Mr Cummings alleged: "The lack of PPE killed NHS and care home staff in March-May."
He said the initial post shows that "No10/Hancock have repeatedly lied about the failures last year" and accused them of now trying to "rewrite history".