Chief nursing officer Ruth May has confirmed she was dropped from a Number 10 press briefing during the lockdown travel storm surrounding Dominic Cummings.
She had been due to appear alongside health secretary Matt Hancock on 1 June, but was cut when she felt unable to defend the prime minister’s chief adviser, according to the Independent.
Ministers had previously denied that May was blocked from taking questions because she refused to defend Cummings after he moved his family 260 miles from London to Durham to stay on his parents’ farm while strict travel restrictions were in place during the lockdown.
But speaking to MPs on 20 July, May confirmed she had prepared for a press conference in June but was stood down.
She told the Commons Public Accounts Committee she did not know why she was dropped.
“It is indeed true that I was dropped from a briefing but that happens to many of my colleagues as well,” May told MPs.
“That is a regular occurrence.”
Pushed on why she was not allowed to appear, she said: “I don’t know why I was dropped, chair.”
May, asked whether it was requested that she defend Cummings, she said: “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.
She said: “I believe that, in my opinion, the rules are clear and they are there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”
Her words echoed those of deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam who, when asked about Cummings’ example at a briefing on 30 May, had said lockdown rules “apply to all”.
In its initial story, the Independent quoted an NHS source saying May was dropped after saying she would follow the example set by Van-Tam, who was also then allegedly blacklisted for a number of weeks.
A second source reportedly told the media outlet: “Everyone is being asked to support the government positions prior to doing a press conference.
“If they don’t, they get dropped.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps had defended the government against the allegations during a media briefing on 12 June.
When asked about the claims last month, Shapps said: “I don’t think it is true.
“She [May] has attended them many times before.
“I am absolutely sure she has been a regular contributor before and I am sure she will be back here again.”
National medical director of NHS England, said at the time he did not know anything about the row over May.
The government put a stop to the daily press conference on 23 June, instead opting to restate them for announcements on an ad-hoc basis.
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