Minister denies chief nurse Ruth May was silenced for refusing to back Dominic Cummings

Ross McGuinness
·3 min read
Chief Nursing Officer for England Ruth May outside St Thomas's Hospital in central London on International Nurses Day.
Chief nursing officer for England, Ruth May, confirmed she was dropped from a Downing Street press briefing. (PA)

A government minister has denied that the chief nursing officer for England was silenced for not backing Dominic Cummings.

On Monday, Ruth May confirmed she was dropped from a Number 10 media briefing on 1 June while prime minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser was under scrutiny for travelling 260 miles during the coronavirus lockdown.

May said her appearance was cancelled after she said that lockdown rules should apply to all when questioned about Cummings, who took his family from London to his parents’ property in Durham while strict travel restrictions were in place.

On Tuesday, policing minister Kit Malthouse denied that the chief nurse had been silenced.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The prime minister and ministers are responsible for the decisions that have been taken and the science is meant to inform their decisions.

“Who or who doesn’t appear at a podium at a particular press conference seems to me less relevant than this hard-working and dedicated public servant can speak when she wishes and she has done, obviously, before and since.

“I don’t think there’s any intention to restrict that.”

May told the Commons public accounts committee on Monday she was dropped from the press briefing but did not know exactly why.

Last month, transport secretary Grant Shapps denied May had been dropped because she refused to defend Cummings.

Senior aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, arrives at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, ahead of a Cabinet meeting to be held at the FCO, for the first time since the lockdown.
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's senior adviser, was criticised for travelling 260 miles during lockdown. (PA)

But speaking to MPs on Monday, May confirmed she had prepared for a press conference in June but was stood down.

"It is indeed true that I was dropped from a briefing but that happens to many of my colleagues as well," she said. "That is a regular occurrence."

Pushed on why she was not allowed to appear, she said: "I don't know why I was dropped."

Asked whether it was requested that she defend Cummings, May replied: “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."

May said she thought the stay-at-home lockdown rules applied to everyone in the country.

"I believe that, in my opinion, the rules are clear and they are there for everyone's safety and they applied to us all."

Housing minister Kit Malthouse in Westminster, London after he became the latest person to enter the race to succeed Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse denied that the chief nursing officer had been silenced. (PA)

Her words echoed those of deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam who, when asked about Cummings' example at a briefing on 30 May, said lockdown rules "apply to all".

Reporting at the time, the Independent quoted an NHS source saying May had been dropped after saying she would follow the example set by Prof Van-Tam, who was also then allegedly blacklisted for a number of weeks.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "It is scandalous that the nation's most senior nurse was silenced at the height of the pandemic because she wasn't prepared to parrot Downing Street spin about Dominic Cummings' blatant rule-breaking.

"As the chief nursing officer indicates, it's unacceptable that there was one rule for Johnson's elite friends and another for the rest of us."

Layla Moran MP, a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said the incident suggested ministers were "happy to silence the science when it suits them".

The government halted its daily press conferences on 23 June.

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