Matt Hancock is looking for your forgiveness – don't give it to him

‘Covid bereaved say get out of here!’ read the 10m banner flown over the I’m A Celebrity jungle by campaign group 38 Degrees this week, sending a clear message to former health secretary Matt Hancock.

I couldn’t agree more. 

As a spokesperson from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: ‘Hancock isn’t a celebrity – he’s the former health secretary who oversaw the UK having one of the highest death tolls in the world from Covid-19, while breaking his own lockdown rules.’

It came after a week of us watching the former health secretary using his platform on the show to change the narrative in his favour, admitting that he entered the jungle looking for forgiveness. He’s so far garnered sympathy from the public, by taking on challenge after challenge with stoicism.

This touched a nerve. 

As a GP, and co-chair of The Doctors’ Association UK, a non-profit lobbying group run by volunteer doctors, I’m only too aware of Hancock’s role in the UK’s pandemic response.

And what’s more – he has not yet been held accountable. As the Covid Inquiry slowly drags on in the background, Hancock has opted to take centre stage and rebrand himself as an affable minor celebrity, a smokescreen over his current legacy of a broken NHS.

I was pregnant and working from home in 2020, juggling a toddler, while speaking to hundreds of people all with the same fears. 

This disease was unknown, and the guidelines for managing it changed on an almost daily basis. 

Some of the most heart wrenching calls were from patients calling with often mild symptoms of Covid, who spoke of saying goodbye to household contact who had been taken to hospital unable to breathe – uncertain if they would see their loved ones again. 

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Many didn’t. 

For my colleagues on the frontlines – in hospitals, nursing homes, GP surgeries and ambulances, many did not have appropriate PPE. 

Before the vaccine rollout in December 2020, hundreds of health and social care workers died after contracting Covid-19.

Hancock resigned as Health Secretary in June 2021 when he was caught on CCTV kissing a colleague, breaking his own social distancing guidelines. 

At the same time as his indiscretion, thousands of people were unable to see their loved ones when they were dying. 

Six Bushtucker trials in, however, much of the hostility from his campmates has been replaced with camaraderie and social media seems to have warmed to him. 

His strategy to show viewers he’s a likeable guy appears to be having the desired effect.

Being beamed onto our TV screens every night from the jungle, eating willy-con-carne with a smile, may sadly be enough to endear this man to a nation all too eager to move on from the suffering of the pandemic. 

By appearing on this show he’s making a mockery of thousands of NHS staff. I’m furious.

GPs in particular, have borne the brunt of people’s hostility with the current state of our NHS. 

I think we need to remember that the decisions he made had consequences. Fatal consequences.

There was genuine fear felt by NHS staff as the pandemic reached our shores in early 2020.

We stepped up. Emergency Departments and GP surgeries adopted new ways of working to ensure patients and staff could be protected from this unknown virus. 

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Former NHS staff returned from retirement, students graduated early to man the frontlines, and care home staff even moved in with residents during lockdown to prevent an outbreak.

Despite Hancock’s claims that there was no national shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), NHS staff did not have access to appropriate PPE in the early days of 2020 when hospitals were becoming overwhelmed. 

The Doctors’ Association UK heard reports from hundreds of frontline medical staff at the time, prompting us to launch our own campaign to source PPE to protect our colleagues. 

Many were scared to speak openly. 

Dr Peter Tun pleaded for PPE supplies to treat patients at the Royal Berkshire hospital in Reading only 3 weeks before he died in April 2020.

While staff scrabbled for PPE, contracts worth millions were given to friends of the former health secretary without any proper competition or justification they were up to the job. 

And the legacy was faulty equipment. 

Over £70million was wasted on gowns that were not sterile, and several million more on facemasks which could not be used. 

Add to the mix the £37bn of taxpayer’s money that was invested into the test and trace project, which failed to achieve its main objective of reducing infection levels; the elderly patients discharged into care homes without testing – and we start to see why Hancock would rather be remembered for eating a camel’s penis.

We can’t let that happen. 

The Covid-19 Inquiry has been launched, but we are yet to see any accountability from the government for their failings. 

Have we all become complicit in a political system that allows the incompetence of our leaders to go unchecked? 

Why are we not all aghast at the fact Hancock lost his Tory whip for appearing on a reality TV show, rather than for his long list of much more serious offences?

As Hancock pockets a hefty sum for his time in the jungle, along with publicity for his forthcoming book, I worry that our pandemic anger could be redirected. 

The GPs accused of not working for two years (despite the news that they’ve been seeing more patients than before the pandemic). 

The nurses and junior doctors balloting for strike action (despite the fact they just want to be paid a liveable wage, which incidentally, would almost certainly cost a lot less than the failed test and trace programme).

For the NHS workers lost to Covid-19, and for all of the avoidable pandemic deaths, the Health Secretary who presided over them attempting to rewrite history on primetime TV is an insult to their memory. 

Our leaders should bear responsibility for decisions they made – not to be blamed, but to learn and ensure these failings are not repeated when the next crisis hits our NHS.

So as you watch Hancock in the jungle tonight, replacing our memories of Covid deaths and disarray, with bad dancing, bugs and talk of love – think about his motives, and don’t let him pull the wool over your eyes.

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