POLITICS
23/03/2021 17:13 GMT | Updated 24/03/2021 09:22 GMT

Matt Hancock Says Government 'Hit The Ball Out The Park' With Covid Response

No.10 lists vaccination rollout, testing and Dexamethasone as success stories, but resists calls for immediate inquiry into 126,000 deaths.

One year and 126,000 deaths since the country was first placed into lockdown, Matt Hancock said the government’s response to the pandemic had in some ways been “unbelievably impressive”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Tuesday, the health secretary was asked how it could be seen as anything other than a “national failure”.

Hancock said the “team” in Whitehall had in many ways “hit the ball out the park” when it came to Covid.

“There have ben areas where we’ve changed the approach because of what we have seen,” he said.

“There are also areas, like the vacation programme, which will be models of how governments can make things happen, and move fast, and deliver for their population for years and years to come.”

He said: “Some of the parts of the response have been unbelievably impressive.”

Asked what, other than the speedy vaccine rollout, was a triumph, Downing Street pointed to the increase in testing capacity.

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson told reporters: “When we started we had a capacity of around 10,000 tests that now stands well over a million tests being conducted over recent days.”

But Test and Trace, which has a budget of £37bn in total over two years up to April 2022, has not had the best of reviews. 

MPs on parliament’s influential public accounts committee concluded earlier this month the “staggering” cost has not been justified by any clear evidence of its impact on controlling the pandemic.

The committee also noted the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) had last year justified the spending on the basis that an effective test and trace system would help avoid a second national lockdown.

“Since its creation we have had two more lockdowns,” the MPs observed.

Test and Trace, run by Tory peer Dido Harding, also admitted in February that it employed around 2,500 consultants at an estimated daily rate of around £1,100. The best paid consultancy staff were paid £6,624.

Nick Macpherson, the former top civil servant at the Treasury, said Test and Trace “wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time”.

Johnson’s spokesperson also cited the deployment of Dexamethasone which “has allowed us to more effectively treat those who have a severe case of the virus”.

The drug has been credited with saving 22,000 lives in the UK since it discovered to be an effective treatment last year.

NHS England has said an estimated one million lives worldwide have been saved by the treatment.

Scientists from the University of Oxford were the first to find that Dexamethasone could reduce deaths from Covid significantly in a government-funded clinical trial known as Recovery.

The researchers discovered it cut the risk of death by a third for Covid patients on ventilators, while deaths fell by almost a fifth for those on oxygen.

Scientists reported their findings last year in June and the drug was made available to patients on hospital wards in England hours later.

Yet despite listing the vaccine rollout, testing and dexamethasone as areas where the government had been impressive, Downing Street is resisting demands for an immediate inquiry.

“We have listened to the best scientific evidence and data when making the decisions that we have made,” No.10 said. “That remains the case now.

“As the prime minister has said, there will be a time in future when we look back and look at the pandemic and how it was handled.”