Matt Hancock allegedly rejected COVID-19 testing advice for residents going into England’s care homes while he was health secretary during the worst of the pandemic, according to a report based on thousands of leaked WhatsApp messages.
The Daily Telegraph claims that 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”.
But the leaked messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected that advice, telling an aide that the move “muddies the waters”, instead introducing mandatory testing just for those coming from hospitals.
According to the investigation, he said: “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test and isolate ALL going into care from hospital.
“I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”
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He also expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the 100,000 daily test target he wanted to hit, the investigation said.
The messages were leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who received them while working on Mr Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries memoir.
She said she was releasing them because it would take “many years” before the official COVID inquiry is completed and “we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers”.
‘I want to hit my target’
Also included in the messages:
• In September 2020, during a test shortage, one of Mr Hancock’s advisers helped to send a test to the home of senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg for one of his children.
• As he struggled to meet the testing target, Mr Hancock texted former Tory chancellor George Osborne to ask for help.
He said the thousands of spare testing slots were “obvs good news about spread of virus” but “hard for my target”.
Mr Osborne, editor of the Evening Standard until July 2020, had 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.”
Mr Hancock had later added: “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”
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A source close to Mr Hancock told PA news agency: “[Ms Oakeshott] has broken a legal NDA [non-disclosure agreement].
“Her behaviour is outrageous.
“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.”
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“This is critical,” the source added, “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.
“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.”