The health department’s initial response in the early days of the Covid pandemic was an “absolute total disaster”, Dominic Cummings has told MPs.
The Prime Minister’s former chief aide added that the health department was a “smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE”.
“Obviously last year we saw that the Department for Health had an absolute total disaster in terms of buying — how it buys, how it procures, how it deals with science and technology,” Cummings said. “It’s why we had to take the vaccine process out of the Department for Health.”
Cummings made the comments as part of an explosive evidence session to the House of Commons’ science and technology committee, marking his first public remarks since his dramatic departure from Number 10 last year.
It comes after the High Court ruled last month that the government acted unlawfully by failing to disclosed details of its Covid contracts in the initial outbreak of the pandemic. The government was also accused of handing out contracts to close contacts of government ministers and failing to advertise the huge tenders.
Cummings was accused in court of awarding a contract to Public First, a company owned and run by two of his associates. The research firm was paid over half a million pounds to research the public’s understanding of the coronavirus.
Speaking at the committee this morning, Cummings also revealed that the UK’s vaccines programme had to be moved out of the Department of Health and Social Care’s remit following problems with buying PPE for NHS staff.
“It’s not coincidental the vaccine programme worked the way that it did,” he said. “We had to take it out of the Department for Health, we had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister and say strip away all the normal nonsense.”
Cummings, who masterminded the Vote Leave campaign during the EU referendum, told the committee that “one of the most obvious lessons” of the Covid crisis was the government should “go to extreme lengths to try to de-bureaucratise the normal system”.
“In February, March, April last year, there was no entity in the British state – zero entities, including the prime minister himself – who could make rapid decisions on science funding minus horrific EU procurement, state aid etc, etc laws,” he said.
“No entity in the British state that could operate at scale and at pace and that was obviously disastrous.”