Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared before the Covid Inquiry today to provide insights into the UK’s level of preparedness for the devastating pandemic that swept the nation. However, the inquiry took an emotional turn as Hancock encountered a grieving widow who confronted him with powerful images of her late husband, a victim of Covid.
Lorelei King, 69, held up two A4 posters displaying heart-wrenching moments to the former health secretary as he emerged from a sleek black Jaguar outside the inquiry venue. One poster depicted Hancock alongside King’s late husband, Vincent Marzello, who tragically passed away in a care home at the age of 72 in March 2020. The other poster featured a poignant image of Mr. Marzello’s coffin.
The caption beneath the photo read, “You shook my husband’s hand for your photo op.”
While Hancock remained silent, he walked into the building, leaving the widow and her powerful reminder of loss behind.
During his testimony, Hancock admitted that the UK’s pandemic plan had primarily focused on managing the aftermath of a disaster, rather than taking aggressive measures to curb the spread of the virus. Expressing deep remorse, he apologised for each life lost and acknowledged the difficulty of accepting an apology from him, given his role in the government’s response to the crisis.
In a surprising move, the former health secretary redirected his attention away from Hugo Keith KC, counsel for the inquiry, and addressed the families seated in the public area. His intention was to offer a personal apology for the profound impact the pandemic had on their lives.
Hancock also revealed that the Pandemic Flu Readiness Board’s progress had been hindered due to the diversion of resources for preparations related to a potential no-deal Brexit. This diversion caused delays and interruptions in the board’s crucial work.
Shift in Focus: Inquiry Uncovers Alarming Shortcomings in Adult Social Care
As the inquiry progressed, counsel Hugo Keith KC shifted the focus towards the state of adult social care preparations during the pandemic. Hancock, who previously emphasised that local councils held legal responsibility for care homes, faced probing questions regarding the sector’s level of readiness.
Keith inquired about the department’s ability to assess the adequacy of pandemic plans and whether local authorities had undertaken sufficient preparations, as well as the overall capacity of the care sector. Exposing a significant shortcoming, Keith highlighted the department’s lack of means to evaluate these critical factors.
“It was terrible,” Hancock interjected, acknowledging the woeful state of preparations to protect adult social care.
Further scrutiny revealed that the Department for Health and Social Care possessed limited knowledge concerning the planning efforts within the care sector. Hancock admitted that the department did not possess a plan to ascertain the number of individuals in need of care. Keith pressed further, asking whether local authorities had developed comprehensive plans to tackle the impact of a catastrophic pandemic on the elderly.
Hancock’s response was disheartening. Only two local authorities had managed to produce such plans, despite the requirement for all to do so. The former health secretary acknowledged a lack of policy measures to verify the extent of pandemic planning, highlighting the irony of the department’s name, which includes “social care.”
Reforming the Flawed Social Care System: Hancock’s Admission
Matt Hancock seized the opportunity to address what he considered a fundamental flaw in the system for managing adult social care. Recognising that older individuals were disproportionately affected by the virus, he stressed that urgent action was required to rectify the shortcomings.
“The system for how we run adult social care is flawed,” Hancock asserted, outlining ongoing efforts to address the issue, including work on pandemic planning. However, he conceded that the system was far from being in a satisfactory state, as the necessary reforms remained incomplete.
As the inquiry into the UK’s pandemic preparedness continues, the emotional encounter between Matt Hancock and the grieving widow serves as a poignant reminder of the human toll of the crisis. The spotlight now turns to how systemic government underfunding in adult social care, Has left alarming gaps in preparedness and raising questions about the nation’s ability to protect its most vulnerable citizens.