Matt Hancock’s handling of the COVID pandemic has come under new scrutiny following the leak of over 100,000 WhatsApp messages.
An investigation by the Daily Telegraph alleges that the former health secretary rejected advice on testing in nursing homes and expressed concern that it could get in the way of meeting his targets.
The MP vehemently denied the “distorted reporting” with a spokesperson, claiming that conversations leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on her memoir Pandemic Diaries were “rotated to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
Former Chancellor George Osborne and Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg are also the subject of some of the messages.
Politics live: Rishi Sunak takes on PMQs at midday amid claims Matt Hancock has rejected COVID advice
Here, Sky News breaks down the main exchanges that allegedly took place:
Hancock says nursing home testing ‘muddy’ waters
The Telegraph’s investigation claims that the chief medical officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, told the then health secretary in April 2020 that there should be tests for “everyone who goes into nursing homes”.
But the messages suggest Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the change only “muddy the waters”.
According to the investigationhe said, “Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’d rather let it go and just commit to testing and isolating ALL hospital care.
“I don’t think community engagement adds anything and muddy the waters.”
However, a source close to Hancock said The Telegraph “intentionally deleted reference to a meeting with the WhatsApp test team”.
“This is critical,” the source added, “because Matt supported Chris Whitty’s advice, held a meeting about his deliverability, said it wasn’t possible, and insisted on testing everyone who came from hospitals.
“The Telegraph has been informed that the headline is wrong and Matt is considering all options available to him.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mr. Hancock said: “It is scandalous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being circulated with partial leaks, rotated to suit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. hard to save lives.”
Home tests could “hinder” the goal of 100,000 daily tests
Hancock also expressed concern that expanding testing in nursing homes could “derail” the goal of 100,000 daily tests he wanted to hit, the investigation said.
On April 2, the then cabinet minister put his reputation on the line with a promise to significantly increase testing by the end of the month as the UK lagged behind Europe in capacity.
Those eligible for testing initially included the general public and NHS staff, and when advised to widen access to include people in COVID-hit nursing homes later that month, Mr. in the sense of really fulfilling the capacity in testing”.
According to the leaked messages, a public official told Mr. Hancock on April 24: “Asymptomatic testing is being read. The main recommendation is that you agree to: Prioritize testing of asymptomatic staff and residents of nursing homes where an outbreak has been recorded in the past 14 days. We estimate that this will result in the conducting 60,000 tests in 2,000 nursing homes in the next 10 days”.
Hancock responded, “Fine, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of fulfilling test capability.”
He didn’t say why that would derail his goal, but at the time, the government recognized the challenges of testing in nursing homes.
Hancock later approved the extra testing in nursing homes, which was announced on 28 April.
Hancock texts George Osborne for help
As he struggled to achieve his goal, leaked messages show that Hancock texted former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne asking for help.
He said the thousands of spare test slots were “good news about the spread of the virus” but “tough for my target”.
Osborne, editor of the Evening Standard until July 2020, is reported to have responded: “Yes – sure – all you have to do tomorrow is give the Standard a few exclusive words and I’ll tell the team to spread it around.”
Mr. Hancock later added, “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”
Test sent to Jacob Rees-Mogg for one of his sons
The “lockdown files” investigation also claims that authorities sent Jacob Rees-Mogg a COVID test for one of his children while there were shortages.
The advisor sent a message to Mr. Hancock to say that the lab had “lost” the original test for one of the sons of the then-Leader of Commons, “so we have a courier going to your family home tonight”.
He added: “Jacob’s spad (special adviser) is aware and has helped line everything up, but you might want to text Jacob.”
It is not clear whether Mr. Hancock sent a text signaling the intervention or whether the test was done.
Commenting on the allegation, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper said: “This is further evidence that it is one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.
“The COVID investigation must examine reports that Conservative ministers have been granted priority access to testing at a time of national shortages.”
Hancock warned restrictions on home visits are ‘inhumane’
The Telegraph investigation also claims that social welfare minister Helen Whately advised the health secretary not to stop “husbands from dating wives” in October 2020.
This was in relation to home visits, which were expected to be restricted as the UK enters a staggered lockdown system, with stricter rules in areas with higher COVID rates.
Mrs. Whately said: “I hear there is pressure to ban home visits at both Level 2 and Level 3. Can you help? I really oppose this. Where homes have COVID safe visiting we should allow this. To avoid husbands seeing wives because they live in nursing homes for months and months is inhumane.”
Hancock replied, “Hearing from who? Level 2 was agreed yesterday as far as I’m concerned.”
Rules that took effect that month allowed some visits for those at tier one, but banned them unless in “exceptional circumstances” at other tiers.
In January 2021, when some restrictions still remained on home visits despite the vaccine rollout, Ms. Whately also said: “I’m getting several positive updates from David P on home vaccinations, with only a handful left to go. As I think I’ve signaled, we need to be ready with the visiting policy given the risks of lives lost due to dropouts. of seniors, as well as COVID… and the expectation that the vaccine = safe for visitors.”
Hancock replied, “Yes, visiting, but only after a few weeks. In the meantime, we need to hit the end of the month target!”
Sky News contacted Ms. Whately to comment.