Number 10’s response to the controversy around special advisor to the prime minister, Dominic Cummings, following revelations of a 264-mile trip to Durham during lockdown, has potentially undermined the confidence of NHS staff and the public in the Government’s guidance, according to unions and healthcare professionals.
The UK Government’s defence of Mr Cummings’ behaviour has created an impression that there is ‘one rule for them, another for us’, GMB Acting General Secretary John Phillips said today (25 May).
‘Cummings cannot remain in post if people are to have confidence in the Government’s coronavirus advice,’ he argued.
As well as undermining public trust, this response has potentially damaged ‘NHS staff confidence’, according to NHS Confederation Chief Executive Niall Dickson.
A group of more than 300 GPs today wrote to the chief constable of Durham police, urging an investigation into Dominic Cummings’ potential coronavirus lockdown breach. The group cited its concern that leaving the allegations unresolved would ‘serve to undermine the public health interventions required to prevent further unnecessary deaths’.
A joint investigation by the Mirror and the Guardian, published last week, found that police investigated Mr Cummings for a potential breach of the lockdown rules on which he helped draft. Further allegations came to light on the weekend, with claims that walkers spotted him at a local beauty spot.
Several scientists who are part of Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) have also publicly shared concerns.
Following the prime minister’s briefing on Sunday (24 May), Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, tweeted: ‘Boris Johnson has trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19.’
Later, speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, he suggested that people were observing the lockdown for the wider community out of the sense that ‘we’re all in this together’, but if the rules do not apply equally, it will undermine adherence and ‘more people are going to die’.
During questioning at yesterday’s press conference, Mr Cummings confirmed he had not offered his resignation to the prime minister. He also said: ‘I don’t regret what I did’ and added that he believes he acted ‘reasonably’ and with ‘integrity and care for others’.
Conservative MP Douglas Ross today announced he will step down as Scottish minister in response to Mr Cummings staying on in his role. In a statement, he said: ‘While the intentions may have been well meaning, the reaction to this news shows that Mr Cummings’ interpretation of the Government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the Government asked.
‘I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the Government.
‘I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior advisor to the Government was right.’
Dr Dominic Pimenta, an NHS cardiology registrar, at the weekend tweeted that he would resign from his position if Mr Cummings does not.
This is me right now heading back into the covid ICU I’ve worked for the last two months.
This stuff is hot and hard work.
Haven’t seen my parents since January.
Frankly, Cummings spits in the face of all our efforts, the whole #NHS.
If he doesn’t resign, I will. pic.twitter.com/1EfzeuOHnq
— Dr Dominic Pimenta (@juniordrblog) May 24, 2020
A YouGov poll conducted on the weekend showed that the public largely (68%) believes Cummings did break the lockdown rules. Only 18% said he did not, and 15% said they did not know.