LONDON, March 17 (Reuters) – Britain’s health ministry was a “smoking ruin” last year that failed to secure adequate protective equipment and other supplies early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former top aide said on Wednesday.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser until November last year, said Britain’s more recent success in rolling out a rapid vaccine programme was a result of a decision to take vaccine procurement out of the ministry’s hands.
His comments to a parliamentary committee were among his first public remarks on the coronavirus response he helped lead, and could cause political headaches for his former boss Johnson.
The health ministry was “just a smoking ruin in terms of procurement and PPE and all of that”, he said.
“It’s not coincidental that the vaccine programme worked the way it did, it’s not coincidental that to do that we had to take it out of the Department of Health,” Cummings told lawmakers.
“We had to have it authorised very directly by the prime minister and say, strip away all the normal nonsense that we can see is holding back funding … in the sense that Number 10 took it out of the Department of Health.”
Cummings, a deeply divisive figure who was the architect of the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, was appointed senior adviser in 2019 after the prime minister turned to him for help to deliver his promise to “get Brexit done”.
He left his position in November, a move he says was planned but which British media reported at the time was a result of clashes with others in the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street office.
Britain has suffered one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world from the coronavirus pandemic, but in recent months it has rolled out the fastest vaccine programme of any large country. The government says it is on course to have given a first COVID-19 shot to half of all adults within the next few days.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Sarah Young
Editing by Peter Graff
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