Chief nurse says she was 'dropped' from government briefings during Cummings controversy

20 July 2020, 18:20

Ruth May has revealed she was dropped from a government press conference in June
Ruth May has revealed she was dropped from a government press conference in June. Picture: PA

Chief nursing officer Ruth May has revealed she was dropped from a daily coronavirus press briefing amid the backlash against Dominic Cummings' lockdown travel.

Speaking to MPs on Monday, Ms May said she had prepared to take part in a government briefing in June, but was eventually dropped.

She said she didn't know the reasons behind the decision, but said it was a "regular occurrence" that "happens to many of my colleagues as well."

According to an earlier report in The Independent, Ms May was due to appear alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock on 1 June, but was cut from the lineup when she felt unable to defend Mr Cummings.

The prime minister's chief adviser has faced huge criticism since it was revealed in May that he travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to stay on his parents' farm despite lockdown restrictions.

Ministers have previously denied that Ms May was cut due to her being unable to defend Mr Cummings; however, the initial Independent report quoted an NHS source as saying Ms May had been cut after saying she would follow the lead of deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, who was allegedly blacklisted after telling a briefing that rules "apply to all".

MPs with the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Monday later pushed Ms May to answer on why she thought she was dropped from the briefing, but she said: "I don't know why I was dropped, chair."

When asked if it could have been due to the controversy surrounding Mr Cummings, she added: "At all press briefings, we talk about a lot of these preparation questions.

"And yes, of course, I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown, yes."

Ms May went onto say that she also believed the lockdown rules were "clear" and that they were there for "everyone's safety and they applied to us all".

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Another source told the The Independent: "Everyone is being asked to support the government positions prior to doing a press conference.

"If they don't, they get dropped."

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Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran said the saga was evidence that ministers were "happy to silence the science when it suits them".

But the government has defended itself agains the allegations, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying last month that he thought they weren't true.

He said: "She [Ms May] has attended them many times before.

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"I notice that at the top of the No 10 Twitter feed I see one of her tweets pinned.

"I am absolutely sure she has been a regular contributor before and I am sure she will be back here again."

The national medical director of NHS England said he wasn't aware at the time of any conflict over Ms May.