‘Do your job’: Piers Morgan tells Matt Hancock to admit government mistakes in heated GMB row

Health secretary lambasts ITV and BBC interviewers for interrupting him in series of fiery media appearances

Andy Gregory
Thursday 16 April 2020 09:33 BST
Piers Morgan and Matt Hancock bicker and interrupt each other in heated ventilator row

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Louise Thomas

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Attempts to question the health secretary over criticisms of the government’s procurement of ventilators for coronavirus patients have descended into an outlandish spat on morning television.

The government’s request for ventilators that would stabilise patients “for a few hours” at minimum has been condemned as “no use whatsoever” by the UK’s professional body for intensive care practitioners, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

“If we had been told that that was the case, that the ventilators were only to treat a patient for a few hours, we’d have said: ‘Don’t bother, you’re wasting your time. That’s of no use whatsoever,’” said Dr Alison Pittard, dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine.

Piers Morgan, co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, put these allegations to Matt Hancock on Thursday morning.

After the health secretary denied them, Mr Morgan responded: “So it’s not true any of the ventilators you got made to specifications given by your department – it’s not true that any got made to a specification that has rendered them useless for anyone who needs one for more than a few hours, which is actually most people.”

The health secretary then began to criticise Mr Morgan’s interviewing style, sparking a row over what both believed the public wanted to hear in a time of crisis.

“I’m going to keep answering the questions, Piers, and I would appreciate the ability to do so – that’s why I come on the programme,” Mr Hancock said.

Mr Morgan replied: “You said something wasn’t true that the FT said was true, and it quoted the people at the sharp end of this actual issue. I’m just interested if you think the FT is lying?” Morgan interjected.

“Well, I was about to answer that before you interrupted me again,” Hancock said. “This is a national emergency. People want to hear the answers to your questions rather than you just asking and ...”

The television host interrupted him, saying: “Stop playing that game with me, Mr Hancock. With the greatest of respect, you’re just buying yourself a bit of time.

“I would admire you more if you just admitted that you weren’t properly prepared, rather like Emmanuel Macron has admitted that they weren’t prepared.

“But your resolute refusal to concede that you’ve made any mistakes here grates with me. I think that also misjudges the public mood, to quote your phrase.”

Visibly frustrated, Mr Hancock then began trying to dictate to the presenter what would follow, saying: “I’m now going to answer your previous question ... and you’re not going to interrupt me.”

This prompted a reminder from Mr Morgan that the health secretary neither decides how the show is run, nor how presenters conduct their interviews.

“No, but I’ll decide what I say as health secretary ...” he managed, before Mr Morgan interrupted: “Sure, and I’ll challenge you. You do your job and I’ll do mine.”

“If you would do your job, then you would let me answer,” Mr Hancock replied, adopting an increasingly clipped tone. “Right, I will answer these questions and if you interrupt me again, I will just keep talking, so don’t. Thank you.”

The uneasy truce held out long enough for Mr Hancock to explain that there are “many different types of ventilator”, the lower level of which can be used for patients who are “less ill”. Both types are being built, he said.

He asserted that the government’s procurement scheme is a “very positive project” and the government’s core goal of ensuring that capacity remains greater than demand on the NHS, “which some people said was impossible, has been met throughout”.

The ITV host was not the only target of Mr Hancock’s ire on Thursday morning, with the health secretary also lashing out on the BBC’s Today programme.

Nick Robinson, far less combative in his approach than Mr Morgan, asked the health secretary how the government could look to ease the current lockdown, referencing calls from adviser Professor Neil Ferguson to implement a Brexit-style department to handle these preparations.

The minister took listeners by surprise as he entreated the BBC veteran to “let me please, let me finish this answer” as he explained the government’s reservations in publicising some of their decision-making.

Whitehall’s communications have “a direct impact on the amount of cases we have, and therefore the amount of people who die”, he said, adding after his outburst: “That is why we will not be distracted into confusing that messaging.

“The scientists can say what they like, the commentators can say what they like, frankly, the interviewers can say what they like, but we will do what is best by dealing with this virus.”

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office announced that it has placed an order for 15,000 of Penlon’s Prima ES202 model, after it became the first newly adapted ventilator design from the government’s “ventilator challenge” to receive regulatory approval.

The first 40 were to be sent to the military logistics hub MoD Donnington on Thursday for distribution to the NHS, the Press Association reported.​

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