Dominic Cummings: Department of Health was 'smoking ruin' at the beginning of pandemic

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said the Department of Health was a “smoking ruin” in terms of the procurement of PPE during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November, gave evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee this morning, and took aim at various sections of the Government.

He said that due to the issues with procuring PPE he and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance had argued that the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine needed a separate taskforce away from the Department of Health and Social Care.

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“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.

Dominic Cummings giving speaking at the Commons Science and Technology Committee which is taking evidence on a new UK research funding agency. Photo: PA

“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.

“We also had the EU proposal which looked like an absolute guaranteed programme to fail – a debacle.

“Therefore Patrick Vallance, the Cabinet Secretary, 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.’”

Mr Cumming also said the Government was unable to make rapid decisions on science funding at the start of the pandemic.

“In February, March, April last year there was no entity in the British – 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.

“One of the most obvious lessons of last year is that a) we should go to extreme lengths to try to de-bureaucratise the normal system

“Secondly, you need to have an emergency process where an entity of the state can actually move at speed and scale to do all sorts of things – buying and procurement and whatnot.”

Mr Cummings was called to give evidence on the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria) that he is seen as being the architect of.

Experts will be given £800m of funding to identify and fund research involving “high-risk, high-reward” science and will have independence from the Government.