Matt Hancock has insisted the government “worked as hard as we could to protect care homes” following scathing criticism from Dominic Cummings.

The health secretary has defended himself for the second time in a day in the wake of the attacks from Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser.

One of the key claims made by Mr Cummings was that Mr Hancock lied about COVID-testing people before they returned to care homes in the early part of the pandemic.

Mr Cummings told MPs on Wednesday that the prime minister was furious to discover in April 2020 that untested hospital patients had been discharged to care homes, adding Mr Hancock had told the PM a month earlier they would be tested.

Follow live: Health secretary gives Downing Street briefing

Mr Hancock told a Downing Street news conference on Thursday: “We could only introduce testing for people going from hospital to care homes once testing capacity was built.”

He said: “Of course we committed, and I committed, to getting the policy in place – but it took time to build the testing.”

More from UK

He added: “We had to prioritise (testing) according to clinical need. We set all of this out at the time.”

Pressed on the issue by journalists, Mr Hancock continued: “There’ll be a time when we can go through all of this in great detail but the most important thing right now is that we’ve still got a pandemic.”

Sky News political correspondent Joe Pike said that despite being repeatedly asked about the matter, Mr Hancock did not give specific answers and gave generalised replies.

Addressing the allegation that Mr Hancock had lied, the health secretary told the Commons today: “We followed the clinical advice on the appropriate way forward.”

There was no requirement to test patients being discharged from hospital into a care home until 15 April 2020, government documents show.

Guidance to care homes dated 2 April 2020 said people who were COVID-19 positive could be discharged to care homes but should isolate once there.

It added: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

And guidance in place until 13 March 2020 further stated community transmission was so low it was “very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected”.

There have been 36,275 deaths involving COVID-19 in care homes since the pandemic began, according to the latest figures from the UK’s statistics agencies.

Mr Cummings yesterday accused the health secretary of repeatedly lying, being disastrously incompetent and claimed he should have been fired on multiple occasions during the pandemic.

Mr Hancock was attacked over failings around care homes policy, personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement and his public pledge on a target for 100k COVID tests a day by the end of April 2020 which caused disruption in Whitehall.

In the Commons earlier today, Mr Hancock insisted Mr Cummings’s allegations were “unsubstantiated” and “not true”, adding: “I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout.”

Mr Cummings also said a second lockdown delay last autumn led to “tens of thousands” of extra deaths.

Boris Johnson, on a visit to a hospital on Thursday, avoided questions about whether he had confidence in Mr Hancock.

But he did deny Mr Cummings’s claim that thousands of people needlessly died because of the prime minister.