The former Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned of the “next pandemic” in an address at the Oxford Union this afternoon. Voicing his concerns about the spread of new viruses such as bird flu, he took questions from the student body on decisions made in during COVID-19 and his views on healthcare going forward.
In a packed chamber, Hancock claimed that investment in new technology is key to reversing the current crisis in the NHS. When asked by members how he expects this to be funded amid national cost-of-living concerns and workers’ strikes for higher wages, he argued that initial expenditure on scientific advancement would ultimately enable the most cost-effective advances.
Hancock appeared well-informed of current problems in the NHS, admitting “people go in for test after test, but all the information isn’t connected by technology.” He said this is one of his main reasons for backing an overhaul of NHS computer systems as a way of counteracting “hours of wasted time.”
“There’s going to be another pandemic,” Hancock told Cherwell News after the event, expressing his sincere concern that the country isn’t prepared for new diseases. However, when asked if he thinks the current government is equipped to handle any such challenges, he said budgetary cuts would be a problem.
In terms of post-pandemic difficulties facing the social care sector, which has a knock on effect with “bed-blocking” in hospitals, Hancock said he was against care being nationalised. However, he stated, “the system needs a rethink” and called the NHS itself “enormously valuable national asset”. He also disclosed that he does not use private healthcare in quick fire questions with Union President Charlie Mackintosh.
In the main address, Hancock’s management of PPE contracts during the pandemic was also challenged. While he said “the UK never actually ran out of PPE”, it was established that the government’s approach of “throwing everything at deals” had led to uneven distribution of vital medial equipment across the country. Hancock denied that the Tory donor status of many parties to PPE contracts had ever been a consideration for him, but described the Track and Trace app, his department’s other key project, as a “total fiasco”.
On social distancing guidelines, Hancock told the Union that he followed them “assiduously” until the beginning of his affair with Gina Coladangelo. When members asked how he could justify breaking COVID rules, Hancock replied “it is what it is”, before adding “I let myself down” and that he could only be upfront about it. A student then mentioned cases where members of the public were unable to comfort grieving relatives at funerals during lockdown and was met with applause. Hancock replied that the rules had been interpreted “more firmly on the ground than we intended”, but encouraged the younger generation not to become disillusioned about politics.
Speaking about his recent appearance I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, Hancock believes the chance to be on reality TV enabled him to show more of his personality. He called it a “totally bonkers experience” and an “irony” that he felt freer to express his feelings to the British public from Australian than in the UK. This leads into what Cherwell News understands will be next for Hancock.
After stepping down as an MP, the former minister hopes to go into “politics outside parliament” by using his new social media following and documentaries to provide information on significant issues, starting with dyslexia among the prison population.
Recalling his time at Oxford University, Hancock told the Union, “I relied on everything I learnt here while making decisions during the pandemic”. He said he was also a strong advocate for “Oxford” appearing in the name of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.