Former well being secretary Matt Hancock instructed officers that he – slightly than the medical career – “ought to finally resolve who ought to dwell or die” if the NHS was overwhelmed in the course of the pandemic, the Covid inquiry heard.
“Happily this horrible dilemma by no means crystalised,” the previous head of the NHS, Lord Simon Stevens, stated in his proof to the inquiry on Thursday.
Stevens, who led NHS England till 2021, stated he pressured on the time that no particular person secretary of state ought to be capable to resolve how care was supplied, “aside from in probably the most distinctive circumstances”.
Hancock’s place, which materialised throughout a planning train on the Cupboard Workplace in February 2020, was a special one from his predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, who had wished such choices to be reserved for scientific employees.
Stevens instructed the inquiry that this moral query was by no means resolved and cropped up once more in the course of the pandemic when “rationing” of NHS providers was mentioned.
The previous NHS chief was largely uncritical of Hancock, not like different figures who appeared earlier than Heather Hallett’s inquiry this week, together with former No 10 senior adviser Dominic Cummings and ex-civil servant Helen MacNamara.
Stevens’ witness assertion referred to the “Operation Nimbus” planning train, which he stated was useful when it comes to outlining the pressures authorities departments may need confronted.
“It did nonetheless end in – to my thoughts a minimum of – an unresolved however elementary moral debate a couple of situation during which a rising variety of Covid-19 sufferers overwhelmed the power of hospitals to take care of them and different non-Covid-19 sufferers,” he stated.
“The secretary of state for well being and social care took the place that on this state of affairs he – slightly than, say, the medical career or the general public – ought to finally resolve who ought to dwell and who ought to die.”
On the ultimate day of proof this week, the inquiry noticed new particulars of Johnson’s witness assertion, during which he expressed his frustrations with the NHS, blaming the well being service for the primary lockdown.
The previous prime minister blamed “bedblocking” within the NHS for locking down the nation as Covid took maintain.
He stated: “It was very irritating to suppose that we have been being compelled to excessive measures to lock down the nation and shield the NHS – as a result of the NHS and social providers had did not grip the decades-old downside of delayed discharges, generally often called bedblocking.
“Earlier than the pandemic started I used to be doing common excursions of hospitals and discovering that about 30% of sufferers didn’t strictly must be in acute sector beds.”
Stevens rejected Johnson’s claims, noting the sheer variety of coronavirus sufferers needing a hospital mattress was far greater than the variety of beds that might have been freed up.
“We, and certainly he, have been being instructed that if motion was not taken on decreasing the unfold of coronavirus, there wouldn’t be 30,000 hospital inpatients, there could be possibly 200,000 or 800,000 hospital inpatients,” Stevens instructed the inquiry.
“Even when all of these 30,000 beds have been freed up – for each one coronavirus affected person who was then admitted to that mattress, there could be one other 5 sufferers who wanted that care however weren’t in a position to get it,” he added.
Whereas Stevens declined to criticise Hancock when giving proof, the inquiry heard that Cummings had repeatedly pushed Johnson to sack his well being secretary as a result of he had “lied his means via this and killed individuals and dozens and dozens of individuals have seen it”.
In a single message, Cummings complained about Stevens and Hancock “bullshitting once more”.
Stevens was proven messages, however stated: “There have been occasional moments of rigidity and flashpoints, that are in all probability inevitable in the course of the course of a 15-month pandemic, however I used to be introduced up at all times to look to the most effective in individuals.”
Showing later, the highest civil servant within the Division of Well being, Sir Christopher Wormald, stated that Hancock would in all probability be shocked by how “widespread” the notion was relating to his frequency of alleged “untruths”.
Wormald was additionally questioned on the inquiry over why he and the UK’s strongest official, Mark Sedwill, have been discussing how the virus was like chickenpox as late as mid-March 2020.
Wormald, who stays the everlasting secretary within the division, believed Johnson “didn’t perceive distinction between minimising mortality and minimising total unfold”.
Lord Sedwill messaged Wormald weeks earlier than the primary lockdown, saying: “Certainly presumably like chickenpox we wish individuals to get it and develop herd immunity earlier than the subsequent wave. We simply need them to not get it and ideally when it’s warn (sic) and dry and so forth.”
This message trade got here on the identical day that Cummings had complained in a WhatsApp message that Sedwill had been “babbling about chickenpox”, including “god fucking assist us”.
Giving proof to the inquiry this week, Cummings claimed that Sedwill had instructed Johnson: “PM, you need to go on TV and will clarify that that is just like the previous days with chickenpox and persons are going to have chickenpox events. And the earlier lots of people get this and get it over with the higher type of factor.”
Stevens additionally instructed the inquiry that senior ministers “typically averted” Cobra conferences chaired by Hancock within the early days of the pandemic.
In his witness assertion, he stated the conferences “usefully introduced collectively a cross-section of departments, businesses and the devolved administrations”.
“Nevertheless, these conferences have been arguably not optimally efficient. They have been very giant, and when Cobra conferences have been chaired by the well being and social care secretary different secretaries of state typically averted attending and delegated to their junior ministers as a substitute,” he added.
This section of the Covid inquiry assessed authorities determination making, with extra witnesses scheduled to seem subsequent week.
These embody Sedwill, former No 10 particular adviser Dr Ben Warner and former residence secretary Priti Patel.