Matt Hancock ‘rejected expert advice on Covid testing for nursing homes’

Matt Hancock arrives with Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty for an emergency Cobra meeting in March 2020 (Photo: EPA)

Matt Hancock rejected advice to test all residents going to English nursing homes for the coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, a leaked trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApps supposedly shows.

The chief medical officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, told the former health secretary that there should be tests for ‘everyone who goes into nursing homes’, according to an investigation by the Daily Telegraph.

But the leaked messages suggest he rejected the guidance, telling an aide the measure only “muddy the waters” and introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.

Hancock also expressed concern that expanding testing in nursing homes could “derail” the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.

The MP vehemently denies the ‘distorted account’, with a spokesman claiming that messages leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she worked on her memoir Pandemic Diaries were ‘rotated to fit an anti-lockdown agenda’.

He said the former health secretary is “considering all options” in response to the leak, with a source close to him adding: “She broke a legal NDA (nondisclosure agreement). Her behavior is outrageous.

The spokesman said: ‘Having not been approached beforehand by the Telegraph, we reviewed the messages overnight.

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock (C), Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (left) and NHS England Chief Medical Officer Professor Stephen Powis attend a news conference Virtual press at 10 Downing Street, central London, on December 10, 2020. - British health officials on Wednesday warned that anyone with a history of significant allergic reactions should not receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine for the time being.  (Photo by SIMON DAWSON/POOL/AFP) (Photo by SIMON DAWSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Hancock flanked by Sir Chris and NHS England Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis (Photo: AFP via Getty)

‘The Telegraph intentionally deleted the reference to a meeting with the WhatsApp test team.

‘This is critical 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.

“This big mistake by Isabel Oakeshott and the Telegraph shows why the proper place for an analysis like this is the Inquiry, not an agenda-driven partial leak of confidential documents.”

The ‘lock files’ investigation also contains:

– Allegations that authorities sent Jacob Rees-Mogg a Covid test for one of his children while there were shortages.

– Mr. Hancock telling former Chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favorable front-page coverage.

12/10/2020.  London, United Kingdom.  Health Secretary Matt Hancock holds a Covid-19 press conference with the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty and the National Medical Director of NHS England, at 10 Downing Street.  Photo by Pippa Fowles / No. 10 Downing Street

Hancock vehemently denies the ‘distorted account’ (Photo: Pippa Fowles/No10 Downing Street)

Mrs. Oakeshott, who described the lockdowns as an ‘utter disaster’, said she was releasing the messages because it would be ‘many years’ before the official Covid inquiry ends, which she claimed could be a ‘colossal whitewash’.

“That’s why I decided to release this sensational cache of private communications – because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for responses,” she said.

In a message, Mr. Hancock said Sir Chris had completed a review and had recommended ‘testing everyone going into asylum and segregation pending the outcome’.

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’d rather let it go and just commit to testing and isolating ALL hospital care. I think community engagement adds nothing and muddies the waters.’

Spokesperson for Mr. Hancock said “the Telegraph story is wrong”, arguing that “instead of wiring and leaks, we need a full and comprehensive investigation”.

“It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being circulated with partial leaks, pivoting to suit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. What the messages show is that many people work hard to save lives,” said the spokesperson.

“Those who argue that there shouldn’t have been a lockdown ignore the fact that half a million people would have died had we not been on lockdown.

‘And for those who say we must never close again, imagine if a disease killed half of those infected and half of the population became infected – as is happening now with avian flu in birds. If this disease were in humans, of course we would want confinement.’

Great Britain Health Secretary Matt Hancock (L) and Great Britain Medical Director for England Chris Whitty arrive at Downing Street in central London on March 2, 2020, ahead of a COBRA emergency meeting on the situation of the developing COVID-19 coronavirus in the UK.  - Britain's Prime Minister, the Prime Minister, will chair an emergency COBRA meeting on the coronavirus outbreak on Monday after the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK rose to 36. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN / AFP via Getty Images)

Spokesperson for Mr. Hancock said the ‘story spun in nursing homes is completely wrong’ (Photo: AFP via Getty)

He continued: ‘The story revolved around nursing homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr. Hancock pushed for testing those who go to nursing homes when such a test was available.

‘The complete documents have now all been made available for the inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment so that real lessons can be learned’.

In September 2020, during a major testing delay, messages suggest that an adviser to Mr. Hancock helped send a Test home to senior Conservative Rees-Mogg.

The advisor sent a message to Mr. Hancock to say 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 their 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.’

The investigation says Rees-Mogg was due to appear in the House of Commons on September 10 and brief MPs on the following week’s agenda, but has isolated himself while awaiting the outcome of his son.

It adds that he would have returned to work four days later, after he tested negative.

Commenting on the statement, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper said: ‘This is further evidence that it’s one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.

‘The Covid inquiry is due to look at reports from Conservative ministers who have been granted priority access to tests at a time of national shortage.’

As he struggled to meet his own target of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day, investigation shows that Hancock texted his former boss, Osborne, asking for a favor.

Hancock said he has thousands of spare test slots, which is “obviously good news about the spread of the virus” but “tough for my target” as he asked for front-page coverage.

Mr. Osborne replied: ‘Yes – of course – all you have to do tomorrow is give Standard some exclusive words and I’ll tell the team to spread it out.’

The then health secretary later added: ‘I WANT TO ACHIEVE MY GOAL!’

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