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

1 March 2023, 09:38 | Updated: 2 March 2023, 01:46

Hancock denied claims about his approach to testing
Hancock denied claims about his approach to testing. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has disputed claims he rejected expert advice from professor Chris Whitty on Covid tests for people going into care homes at the start of the pandemic.

An investigation by the Telegraph that examined more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages alleges he rejected advice to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes.

The MP denied the "distorted account" with a spokesman alleging the messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on his Pandemic Diaries memoir have been "spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda".

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock added the messages had been "doctored".

The investigation claims chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for "all going into care homes".

Read more: 'Frightened, scared, vulnerable': Anger at 'meaningless' tougher sentences for people who attack emergency workers

Read more: Desperate race to find missing baby: 200 officers join hunt for child of aristocrat as police quiz mum and partner

Matt Hancock has denied claims about his approach to care home testing
Matt Hancock has denied claims about his approach to care home testing. Picture: Alamy

But the messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just "muddies the waters", and introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.

Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could "get in the way" of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said the former health secretary is "considering all options" in response to the leak, with a source close to him telling the PA news agency: "She's broken a legal NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Her behaviour is outrageous."

The spokesman said: "Having not been approached in advance by the Telegraph, we have reviewed the messages overnight.

"The Telegraph intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp. This is critical, because Matt was supportive of Chris Whitty's advice, held a meeting on its deliverability, told it wasn't deliverable, and insisted on testing all those who came from hospitals.

Criticism over Matt Hancock follows claims about Chris Whitty's advice
Criticism over Matt Hancock follows claims about Chris Whitty's advice. Picture: Alamy

"The Telegraph have been informed that their headline is wrong, and Matt is considering all options available to him.

"This major error by Isabel Oakeshott and the Telegraph shows why the proper place for analysis like this is the Inquiry, not a partial, agenda-driven leak of confidential documents."

The "lockdown files" investigation also contains:

  • - Claims that officials couriered Jacob Rees-Mogg a Covid test for one of his children while there was a shortage.
  • - Mr Hancock telling former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, "I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!" as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage.

Ms Oakeshott, who has described lockdowns as an "unmitigated disaster", said she was releasing the messages because it would take "many years" before the end of the official Covid inquiry, which she claimed could be a "colossal whitewash".

"That's why I've decided to release this sensational cache of private communications - because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers," she said.

In one message, Mr Hancock said Sir Chris had finished a review and recommended "testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result".

Mr Hancock described it as "obviously a good positive step".

However, the investigation said he later responded to an aide: "Tell me if I'm wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test & isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters."

The spokesman for Mr Hancock said "the Telegraph story is wrong", arguing that "instead of spinning and leaks we need the full, comprehensive inquiry".

"It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. What the messages do show is a lot of people working hard to save lives," the spokesman said.

"Those who argue there shouldn't have been a lockdown ignore the fact that half-a-million people would have died had we not locked down.

"And for those saying we should never lock down again, imagine if a disease killed half those infected, and half the population were going to get infected - as is happening right now with avian flu in birds. If that disease were in humans, of course we'd want to lockdown."

He continued: "The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available.

"The full documents have already all been made available to the inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment, so true lessons can be learned."

In September 2020, during a severe backlog in testing, messages suggest an adviser to Mr Hancock helped get a test sent to senior Conservative Mr Rees-Mogg's home.

The aide messaged Mr Hancock to say the lab had "lost" the original test for one of the then Commons leader's children, "so we've got a courier going to their family home tonight".

He added: "Jacob's spad (special adviser) is aware and has helped line it all up, but you might want to text Jacob."

Commenting on the claim, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: "This is yet more evidence that it's one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.

"The Covid inquiry must look into reports Conservative ministers were able to get priority access to tests at a time of national shortage."

As he battled to meet his own target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day, the investigation shows Mr Hancock texted his former boss Mr Osborne to "call in a favour".

Mr Hancock said he has thousands of spare testing slots which is "obvs good news about spread of virus" but "hard for my target" as he asked for front page coverage.

Mr Osborne responded: "Yes - of course - all you need to do tomorrow is give some exclusive words to the Standard and I'll tell the team to splash it."

The then health secretary later added: "I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!"

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Florida rapper Julio Foolio has been shot dead

Florida rapper Julio Foolio shot dead during his birthday in Florida

Meg Bellamy played Kate Middleton in The Crown

The Crown star Meg Bellamy reveals trolls branded her 'too fat' to play Kate in the show

Jay Slater's father has urged people to come forward if they have any information on his son's disappearance

'Someone must know something': Jay Slater's father speaks out as search for missing son stretches into second week

Security guard who plotted to kidnap, rape and murder Holly Willoughby previously held other women against their will

Security guard who plotted to kidnap, rape and murder Holly Willoughby previously held other women against their will

Princess Diana's family home in Mayfair has gone on sale for the first time in decades

'A trophy home with royal connections': Mayfair townhouse where Diana met Dodi on sale for £11m

A shopping centre security guard from Essex, spent almost two years plotting to kidnap and kill Holly Willoughby.

'Obsessed' security guard spent almost two years 'plotting to kidnap, rape and murder' Holly Willoughby

Princess Anne has been injured by a horse

Princess Anne rushed to hospital with concussion after being kicked in the head by horse on country estate

Rishi Sunak has said he is not aware of any other candidates being investigated in the Conservative gambling scandal

Sunak says he's not being investigated in Tory betting scandal and is 'unaware of other candidates being looked at'

Lucy Letby tells retrial she never intended to harm babies in her care

Lucy Letby tells her retrial she never tried to harm any babies in her care

Frederick Allard has been jailed

Predator landlord jailed after demanding sexual favours from women in exchange for reduced rent

Jay Slater's family have shared an image of what is believed to be the last sighting of him

Spanish police issue update on missing Jay Slater after family share CCTV of mystery figure believed to be teen

A man has been rescued following a house explosion in Willington, County Durham

Explosion destroys house and leaves man seriously injured

Polish Politics And More (archives 2016-2022)

No Brexit renegotiation without free movement, warns Michel Barnier in fresh blow for Labour

Labour and the Tories are in a 'conspiracy of silence' about taxes, the IFS has warned

Next government will have to raise taxes, cut services or borrow more, IFS warn as they slam 'conspiracy of silence'

Jay Slater's family have shared an image of what is believed to be the last sighting of him

Missing Jay Slater's 'last sighting' in Tenerife: Family share CCTV of mystery figure believed to be teen

Exclusive
Wes Streeting has said Labour would simplify the gender transition process

Labour will 'simplify burdensome and bureaucratic' gender transition process, Wes Streeting says