Former health secretary Matt Hancock is facing claims that he rejected COVID-19 testing advice for residents going into England’s care homes while he was health secretary at the height of the pandemic, according to reports based on leaked WhatsApp messages.
The Telegraph has obtained more than 100,000 messages sent between Mr Hancock and other ministers and officials at the height of the pandemic, and passed to the newspaper by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, an outspoken critic of Covid lockdowns. Ms Oakeshott was given copies of the texts while helping Mr Hancock write his book, Pandemic Diaries.
According to claims in The Daily Telegraph chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty had told Mr Hancock in April 2020 that there should be testing for “all going into care homes and segregation whilst awaiting a result “however, the message exchange in WhatsApp suggest Mr Hancock decided against the initial guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”, before introducing mandatory testing for only those coming from hospitals.
Mr Hancock welcomed the advice, and said the advice represented a “good positive step” and that “we must put into the doc”, to which an aide replied that he had sent the request “to action”.
However, later the same day, Mr Hancock messaged again saying he would rather “leave out” a commitment to test everyone entering care homes from the community 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,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said that he (as health secretary) “enthusiastically accepted” advice from the chief medical officer on 14 April that testing was needed for people going into care homes.
“Later that day he convened an operational meeting on delivering testing for care homes where he was advised it was not currently possible to test everyone entering care homes, which he also accepted,” he said.
“Matt concluded that the testing of people leaving hospital for care homes should be prioritised because of the higher risks of transmission, as it wasn’t possible to mandate everyone going into care homes got tested.”
The spokesman accused the Telegraph of doctoring the messages by excluding a line from a text from one of his aides which “demonstrates there was a meeting at which advice on deliverability was given”.
The statement added: “By omitting this, the messages imply Matt simply overruled clinical advice. That is categorically untrue. He went as far as was possible, as fast as possible, to expand testing and save lives.”
It added that the right place to examine what happened during the pandemic was the public inquiry, which is now under way and is due to begin hearing evidence in June.