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With ‘I’m a Celeb’, Matt Hancock insults bereaved families like mine

OPINION: I lost my dad to Covid. The former health secretary is wrong to go on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here as the inquiry starts

Lobby Akinnola
17 November 2022, 12.01am

Matt Hancock on the set of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! on ITV


I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! / ITV

Editors note: Matt Hancock has made headlines for everything from his affair with Gina Coladangelo to being “bullied” on reality TV. But for bereaved families who lost their loved ones to Covid, the former health secretary has a much darker legacy. Hancock is still an MP, but he currently sits in an Australian jungle taking part in “bushtucker” trials. Back in the UK, he has already lost the Tory whip, and councillors in his constituency are calling for him to resign.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines shame as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour”. As Matt Hancock has shown by arguing over potatoes with Boy George and being voluntarily covered in slurry on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here, the feeling is not one with which he is familiar.

There are two possible reasons that Hancock is not ashamed. Either he is unaware of any ‘wrong or foolish behaviour on his own part’ – or he does not care, and feels no distress as a result. If it is the former, worry not. I will gladly remind him of his failures during his time in government.

As the secretary of state for health and social care, Hancock was responsible for overseeing the delivery of care to the British public throughout the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic – the worst health crisis to hit the UK in decades.

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Despite the importance of his role and the seriousness of the stakes, Hancock failed time and again to prioritise the public.

His department reportedly inflated testing numbers to meet its own targets. The “protective ring of steel” he vowed to throw around the elderly and vulnerable proved to be more of a sieve, as the government discharged untested hospital patients into care homes – a policy that the High Court later deemed unlawful. He broke the law again by failing to declare how billions of pounds of public money was spent on contracts within the required 30-day time frame.

His government engaged in ‘COVID cronyism’, awarding contracts to companies that ministers’ friends and family owned or held shares in – companies with no experience producing the lifesaving PPE (personal protective equipment) our frontline workers needed. It is no wonder £4bn worth of NHS PPE was unusable. Even his prime minister allegedly thought he was “totally f***ing hopeless”.

And then, even Hancock’s route out of office showed total disregard for the public. His downfall came when he broke his own social distancing rules to pursue an affair with an aide. These were rules he told us were there to protect us, rules that meant I did not get to see my father before his death.

For three weeks, the same length of time Hancock could be in the jungle, I sat waiting for updates on my dad’s health

Let me be clear, Hancock’s actions as health secretary were beyond the pale. He had a duty to protect us and he failed, resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths. He oversaw what a select committee called one of “the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced” and you should be very ashamed.

But perhaps the former health secretary is not unaware of his failures. Perhaps he simply doesn’t care. There is unfortunately little I can personally do to make him feel otherwise. But together, I believe we can show him that we care, that we have not forgotten.

Like millions of others across the UK, I wake up every day feeling the loss of my loved one. For almost three weeks – the same length of time that Hancock could now be in the jungle – I sat in my room waiting for updates on my dad’s health. Praying that, after following the rules and not going home for my birthday, I would be able to celebrate his recovery with him in person. I cannot just jump on a plane for a televised, well-paid holiday in Australia and forget that our reunion will never happen.

Many others have had their lives turned upside down by long COVID, and may never fully recover. They mourn the lives they once enjoyed – no ‘bushtucker trial’ is going to give them their health back.

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As we face multiple crises worsened by the devastation of COVID, the UK does not have the luxury of forgetting exactly Hancock’s legacy of profit over the people. It’s a mantra he clearly still adheres to, as yesterday he landed in Brisbane, leaving his constituents unrepresented while he spends the next month galivanting in the jungle with other household names.

I am no closer to understanding why Hancock seems numb to the pain his actions cause, but I do, however, have a suggestion as to how he could be spending his time if he wants to rehabilitate his public image or, better still, try to make amends.

The public inquiry into the UK’s COVID response began this week and I would encourage Hancock to be an active participant, ensuring evidence is delivered in a timely and transparent manner and answering the bereaved’s questions so we can attempt to move on. He could help the UK to learn from its mistakes so that we are better prepared for the next virus.

So I implore Hancock: return to the UK immediately and show us, for once, that the public matters to you. Because running off to be on a reality TV show while we are still dealing with the consequences of your actions is beyond insensitive, it is insulting, and we deserve better. Choose to be better.

Lobby Akinnola is a member of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families For Justice group.

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