Andrew Marr: Matt Hancock "owes it to the country" to give his full story on care home testing

1 March 2023, 18:18 | Updated: 1 March 2023, 18:27

Andrew Marr has said that Matt Hancock "owes it to the country" to explain his decision-making on care home Covid testing, after claims the former Health Secretary rejected scientific advice at the start of the pandemic.
Andrew Marr has said that Matt Hancock "owes it to the country" to explain his decision-making on care home Covid testing, after claims the former Health Secretary rejected scientific advice at the start of the pandemic. Picture: LBC

By Chris Samuel

Andrew Marr has said that Matt Hancock "owes it to the country" to explain his decision-making on care home Covid testing, following claims the former Health Secretary rejected scientific advice at the start of the pandemic.

Speaking on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr, the presenter said that rather than having to wait for a public enquiry, Mr Hancock should "come clean" and subject himself to cross-questioning over the issue.

He said: "Good evening. Let's begin today with a story which matters to the whole country, or certainly should do; but the real truth of which is very hard to unearth.

"Around 40,000 people - our parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings – died in care homes in Britain in the first 2 years of the pandemic.

"As a journalist at the time I vividly remember being told by the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the government had thrown a protective ring around those care homes.

Read more: Matt Hancock denies claim he ignored Chris Whitty's advice on care home testing after damaging messages leaked

Read more: Jeremy Clarkson axed from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? amid Meghan Markle column fallout

"With the benefit of hindsight that clearly wasn't true. The bereaved relatives of people who died of covid in British care homes and, frankly, the whole country, deserves to understand exactly what happened, and why.

"This has erupted in the House of Commons today because a journalist Isabel Oakeshott handed a vast cache of 100,000 WhatsApp messages which had been given to her by Mr Hancock for a book they were writing together, to the Daily Telegraph.

Andrew Marr says Matt Hancock owes the country the truth

Watch Tonight with Andrew Marr exclusively on Global Player every Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 7pm

"The story it’s extracted is that Mr Hancock turned down scientific advice to test everyone going into a care home, and instead decided to test only people coming out of hospital. Why?

"Because testing everyone “muddies the waters”. Wow. Really, Matt? But hold on. Let's all just stop right there. Matt Hancock denies the story. He said he was in favour of testing everyone until he was told at an earlier meeting – not part of the Telegraph story – that they didn't have enough testing kits for that.

"He had to decide to test people from the community going into care homes, or test the people coming out of hospitals; and he chose the latter.

"That might have been the right decision or the wrong one, but it's a hard choice any of us can imagine being confronted with; and in my view it isn't a hanging offence.

You can also listen to the podcast Tonight with Andrew Marr only on Global Player.

"All that said, at that crucial time when the virus was ripping around the country, could our care homes full of the most vulnerable people really not have been better protected?

"And had we been sold a false “protective ring” story about how safe they were? I don't know the full answers. Nor do you. And now we’re both told, wait for the public enquiry.

"Personally I think it was unethical to release these WhatsApp messages in this way and I think Mr Hancock was - technical term - a loon to trust Isabel Oakeshott with them.

Read more: Harry and Meghan 'stunned' and two other royals 'appalled' over Frogmore Cottage 'eviction'

Read more: Doctor who delivered Vladimir Putin's love children with mistress dies suddenly after revealing existence of his two sons

"But I agree with her when she protests that waiting for Britain’s public enquiry is not an acceptable response. Not fair to the families. Not kind. Not right.

"The Swedes finished their enquiry a year ago. The French and the Italians are well ahead with their ones. Our’s, which has cost up to £85 million so far, is yet to begin formal hearings and has no set timeframe, no deadline.

"As Oakeshott writes: “we all know what this means: it will drag on forever.” At Prime Minister's Questions today Keir Starmer asked Rishi Sunak to promise that enquiry would report by the end of this year and got a pretty dusty response about “proper process”.

Read more: Harry and Meghan 'stunned' and two other royals 'appalled' over Frogmore Cottage 'eviction'

Read more: Britain's most expensive home: Saudi-owned London mansion goes on sale for £250m

"I have another suggestion. Matt Hancock seems to have become one of the most reviled people in the country. Despite his book and his appearance on I'm a Celebrity - or perhaps because of the latter – he gets screamed at in the street and harangued in tube trains.

"Right now he, government ministers and servants of the state are using this enquiry not as some kind of sword of truth but as a giant rubber shield to behind which to huddle silently for as long as humanly possible.

"Wouldn't it be far better - above all for the bereaved, but for the development of future policy too - to come clean, put his case in full in public - to explain exactly what he did and why, and - yes - subject himself to cross-questioning?

" I don't think that the case for the prosecution on the front page of a daily newspaper is the full story of what happened in this disaster. But I think Matt Hancock owes it to the country and himself to give us his full story; and to do it soon."

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

William appeared at Ascot

Prince William shares tender moment with Kate's mother as she suffers mishap at Ascot

Jay Slater's family have warned people about donating to fake pages

'I just want my baby back': Mother of missing Brit Jay Slater, 19, issues plea after 'false sighting' delays search

Keir Starmer came out on top after LBC’s two exclusive phone-ins

Keir Starmer comes out on top after LBC phone-ins – as Rishi Sunak seen as ‘overwhelmingly negative’

OceanGate co-founder Guillermo Söhnlein is pictured with CEO Stockton Rush, who died on the Titan sub

Oceangate co-founder claims he can 'safely' send 1,000 people to Venus

Labour must ditch 'phoney fiscal rules' and borrow to invest in public services, says boss of UK's largest trade union

Labour must ditch 'phoney fiscal rules' and borrow to invest in public services, says boss of UK's largest trade union

Theo Paphitis speaks to LBC.

'They've lost the plot': Ex-Tory donor and Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis reveals why he's switched support to Labour

Exclusive
Sir David Ormand has criticised the Conservatives for suggesting Keir Starmer is a security risk

Former spy boss criticises 'disreputable' Tory suggestion that Putin and Xi would welcome Starmer as Prime Minister

Justin Timberlake was arrested on Tuesday

'We'll have a lot to say': Justin Timberlake's lawyer vows to 'vigorously defend' singer after DWI arrest

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday

Rishi Sunak set 'to become first PM to lose seat' in election wipeout with Conservatives down to just 53 MPs, poll finds

Starmer and Neville

Keir Starmer tells Gary Neville he needs to win British people's trust, as he warns turning UK around will take 10 years

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrives for a visit to Great Wood Farm Early Years Centre, Grantham in East Midlands, June 17

Sunak close protection officer arrested over alleged election date bets

Allen Morgan, 73, said he was locked in a "passionate but forbidden" affair with his now wife Margaret, 75, when he hired a hitman to kill his then-partner Carol

Pensioner found guilty of conspiring to murder wife after hiring hitman amid 'passionate but forbidden' affair

Charlie Cosser

Teenager jailed for life for murdering 17-year-old Charlie Cosser on dance floor at party

Police were called to a property at Shorncliffe Road shortly after 3pm on Sunday

Baby girl mauled to death in dog attack at family home in Coventry

The tourists trying to stop Stonehenge being vandalised

Moment hero tourists grab Just Stop Oil spraying paint on Stonehenge, as activists 'damage rare lichen'

Anthony Hill disappeared on Monday morning

CCTV images show last sighting of Martin Lewis' MoneyExpertSaving colleague before going missing on 37th birthday