Chief nursing officer suggests she was dropped from No 10 press briefings after refusing to support Dominic Cummings

Chief NHS nurse for England, Ruth May, at the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons; Par

Chief NHS nurse for England, Ruth May, at the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons; ParliamentLive - Credit: Archant

The chief nursing officer for England has suggested she might have been dropped from daily Downing Street press briefings because she refused to support Dominic Cummings' lockdown-breaking trip to County Durham in public.

Ruth May told a Commons committee on public administration that she was dumped from coronavirus press conferences after having suggested that 'everyone' had to respect lockdown rules during a preparatory session.

Chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier asked if May had been asked to support Cummings during a briefing shortly after the scandal of his trip to Durham emerged in May.

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'As with all press briefings we talked about lots of these preparation questions and yes, of course, I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown,' she replied.

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'And what are your views on lockdown and the actions of Dominic Cummings at that time?' probed Hillier.

'I believe that it my opinion the rules were clear,' May responded, looking down at her desk as if reading from a sheet of paper, 'they are there for everyone's safety and they apply to us all'.

'So to him, as well as to me and you?' the Labour politician asked.

'It certainly applied to all of us,' the senior nurse replied.

Hillier asked May to clarify if she was stood down for that response.

'I don't know why I was dropped from the briefing. I'm afraid you'll have to ask other people for that,' she told the committee. She also was not given an explanation for being removed.

May was stood down in June at the same time chief medical and scientific officers Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance stopped appearing at Downing Street pressers.

MORE: Downing Street accused of 'gagging' experts after allegedly axing chief nurse from daily briefings

Liberal Democrat health, wellbeing and social care spokesperson Munira Wilson called the news 'shocking':

'The confirmation that England's chief nursing officer, Ruth May, has been silenced since her refusal to back Dominic Cummings' decision to break the rules back in May simply shows what we guessed all along - that this government would do anything it could to keep him in post.

'The damage to public health and the public's trust in the government was enormous, but clearly this was less important than Dominic Cummings keeping his job - pandemic or not. At the time I wrote to Matt Hancock demanding to know if the reports about Ruth May being excluded from the press conferences were true, but this was met with silence.

'This confirmation from Ruth May today should be shocking, but considering we witnessed Boris Johnson trying to gag Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance live on air, it unfortunately isn't. It is now clear for all to see that far from following the science, this government has no intention of listening to it whatsoever if it gets in the way of their own political interests.'

Dominic Cummings broke coronavirus lockdown rules to travel to Durham from London to seek childcare support from his family. He remains in his role, despite widespread public and media protest at his actions.

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