No wonder the first question to Mr Hancock from health select committee chairman Jeremy Hunt at a session on April 17 was this: “People are puzzled. Can you just explain why it is that we are only reporting hospital deaths on a daily basis?”
Mr Hancock explained that while the Government’s “overall goal here is to be as transparent as possible”, there was a “data collection issue” because of a time lag in collecting information on deaths outside hospitals from as many as 50,000 care homes (GPs need time to identify a cause of death and fill in death certificates, and for that information to be reported centrally).
Nevertheless, Mr Hancock told the MPs that Government bean-counters had been able to cut this time lag from two weeks to days, and the goal was to bring that down further. One ally of the Health Secretary said it had been a priority, adding: “They have put a lot of resource in getting that data.”
But why now? The reasons are twofold. Mr Hancock is one of the Cabinet’s “doves” who does not want a swift exit from lockdown to risk a spike in cases. Like other ministers, he is preparing for what could be a crucial meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday at which decisions about relaxing the strictures of the lockdown could start to be made.
The meeting – chaired by Boris Johnson – will almost certainly look at whether to vary the restrictions, possibly regionally, and whether people should be required to wear masks when they are out and about, among many other areas.