Watch: Department of Health a 'smoking ruin' over Covid, says Dominic Cummings
Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was making his first public appearance since his dramatic departure from No 10, to answer questions about the government’s new “high-risk” scientific research agency that he championed.
However, Cummings was also questioned about the government’s response to the pandemic, and revealed how Matt Hancock’s department was a “smoking ruin in terms of PPE and procurement” in spring last year.
In an extraordinary attack, Cummings said: “The Department of Health had a total disaster in how it buys and how it procures.”
Cummings said that because of Hancock’s department’s handling of PPE, he and the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance had argued that it needed a separate taskforce.
“It is not coincidental that we had to take it out of the Department of Health. We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister,” 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."
He added: “Therefore Patrick Vallance, the cabinet secretary [Mark Sedwill], me and some others said ‘obviously we should take this out of the Department of Health, obviously we should create a separate taskforce and obviously we have to empower that taskforce directly with the authority of the prime minister.’”
Cummings said it was therefore "not coincidental" that the vaccine programme in the UK has been successful.
Watch: 'Good riddance' to Cummings, says former Johnson staffer
He said the creation of a vaccine taskforce had “stripped away all the usual nonsense” of the bureaucracy surrounding decisions.
Downing Street later defended the response of the Department of Health.
In response to Cummings’ comments, the PM's official spokesman said: “COVID challenged health systems around the world. From the outset, it was always our focus to protect the NHS and save lives.
“I would point to what was achieved last year in terms of establishing one of the biggest diagnostic networks in UK history, in terms of increasing the number of tests we are able to undertake every day.
“We have procured over nine million items of PPE, we have established the NHS Test and Trace system which has contacted millions of people and asked them to isolate.
“DH (Department of Health) and the NHS were central to the rollout of the vaccination programme.”
Cummings, meanwhile, also spoke about how the government was held back from making rapid decisions at the start of the pandemic because of EU legislation.
He argued that "one of the most obvious lessons" of 2020 was to "go to extreme lengths to try to de-bureaucratise the normal system".
The former Vote Leave campaigner also criticised the EU over its handling of its vaccine row with AstraZeneca and said Brussels’ recent actions justified the argument he made during the Brexit campaign.
He said: “At the referendum, one of the things you [Graham Stringer MP] and I argued very strongly was that it would be very dangerous to let the EU continue to regulate science and technology in this country and that we should take back control of regulation over science, technology, procurement.
“Again, I would argue very strongly that 2020 was proof that that argument was correct.
“As things have been proved every day now, science can co-operate globally without having to be part of the nightmarish Brussels system which has blown up so disastrously over vaccines."
Rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine across various EU countries has been suspended following claims that it caused blood clots.
Referencing the row, Cummings added: "Just this week we’ve seen what happens when you have an anti-science, anti-entrepreneurial, anti-technology culture in Brussels married with its appalling bureaucracy in its insane decisions and warnings on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I think we are extremely well out of that system.”
Cummings was last seen exiting Downing Street in November after a bitter power struggle within No 10 spilled out into the open.
Watch: COVID vaccine reduces risk of serious illness by 80%