I couldn’t help feeling sorry for our Health Secretary Matt Hancock at yesterday’s coronavirus press conference. Since Boris fell ill he’s had to put himself in front of the country more than anyone else.
As well as the daily briefings, he’s done the majority of media interviews and since this is a health crisis it’s his department more than any other that’s having to mobilise the fight against it.
The poor man was ill with the virus himself a few weeks ago and we all know he we feel recovering from a nasty bout of flu to then straightaway resume full-on work.
Yesterday there was talk that the 10 Downing Street office was distancing themselves from his 100,000 a day test pledge. Knowing his boss was less than happy with his performance at this time of crisis couldn’t have been great for his morale.
Truth is none of what’s going on is his fault. He didn’t create or spread the virus. He didn’t take the decision about when to lockdown. As health secretary for less than two years in a government elected in December he can’t be held responsible for our lack our preparedness for this once a century global pandemic.
Some of the failings – which I get as angry about as anyone else – around the provision of masks, gowns and gloves and the low level of testing are not really his fault either. I have some experience of dealing with NHS Procurement and it seems to me the whole department is geared up to NOT getting things done.
Changing the culture, making this sclerotic bureaucracy dynamic in a matter of weeks must be nigh on impossible. Also we’re talking about health here and the risks of getting things wrongmust be unconscionable.
He does appear to care and the section in his speech about how the lonely, tragic death of 13 years-old Ismail made him weep was very moving. I am sure he is trying to do his best, who wouldn’t be in these circumstances.
This pandemic must be occupying his thoughts every moment of every day and will have been now for a couple of months and probably will be for the rest of the year.
OK, he’s not a front-line medic but in its own way heading up the country’s health and care services makes his job as hard as anyone’s right now. I bet he’s more stressed than ever before and getting no sleep.
On the plus side we have managed to, so far, achieve the main objective of ensuring there is sufficient NHS capacity to cope with the virus, building a few of the new Nightingale hospitals in a matter of weeks.
Yesterday watching him stumble through a couple of his answers in an otherwise assured and upbeat press conference I found myself hoping, partly for his sake, that the vaccines developed here that are being trialled on people tomorrow really do work.
How wonderful it would be if the UK played a key role in rescuing the world from this awful pandemic.
It’s so easy to knock our politicians but at a time of national emergency, an unprecedented crisis, I think we should cut Matt Hancock some slack.