No 10 admits Matt Hancock did use private email for official work and refuses to say if rules were broken

Matt Hancock and his deputy did use private emails for official work, No 10 has admitted – while refusing to say if they complied with government rules. 

On Monday, Downing Street insisted the pair had not used personal accounts – despite leaked minutes suggesting otherwise – but it has backtracked 24 hours later.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman was then asked if the former health secretary, and his deputy Lord Bethell, copied in all important information onto work accounts, as required.

But he repeatedly ducked the question, saying only that all ministers are “aware of that guidance”.

That official guidance states that all “substantive” government information must be “accessible” by, for example, “copying it to a government email address”.

The controversy has blown up because leaked minutes showed a top health department civil servant warned Mr Hancock “only” deals with his private office “via Gmail account” – and, extraordinarily, that he “does not have” an official email inbox.

Meanwhile, Lord Bethell, “routinely uses his personal inbox and the majority of [approvals for Covid contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox”, the documents obtained by The Sunday Times said.

The Information Commissioner has revealed she is weighing up an investigation, arguing there is genuine public concern that vital information is being concealed.

“It is an important principle of government transparency and accountability that official records are kept of key actions and decisions,” Elizabeth Denham said.

On Monday, Downing Street insisted that both ministers “only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses”.

Mr Hancock quit on Saturday for breaking Covid rules by embracing his lover in his office, but Lord Bethell remains in his post – despite Labour calls for him to be dismissed,

In the Lords, the peer also ducked questions when challenged, saying: “I have read the ministerial code, I signed the ministerial code and I seek to uphold it in everything I do.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Lord Bethell used his private email account to sign off contracts and the government tried to cover it up.

“Sack him, publish the private emails and hand them over to the public inquiry.”

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, had ridiculed No 10’s denial of any personal email use as “nonsense”, tweeting: “I can prove it with screenshots from my phone”.

They included examples of Mr Hancock using WhatsApp to “discuss procurement issues” with Tory donors and with Downing Street officials, he claimed.

Asked, again, if personal emails had been used for government work, the spokesman said: “Yes. Ministers are able to communicate in a variety of different ways as long as they adhere to the guidance as set out.”

But, asked if Mr Hancock and Lord Bethell had copied information to official accounts, he replied: “What I am saying is that ministers are aware of the guidance and government business is conducted in line with that guidance.”

Warning from SAGE scientist over same lockdown mistake as last summer

A scientist advising the Government on coronavirus response has warned against making the same mistakes as last summer.

Neil Shaw 

Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee on behavioural science, said the country was in danger of repeating last summer’s mistakes.

He told Times Radio: “My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer – if you remember, the Prime Minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had eat out to help out.

“The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.

“And I think this time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.

“So I think the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?”

He said test and trace was still not working properly or contacting people quickly enough, and pointed to the lack of support for people to self-isolate.

He added: “It seems to me that if we got right the basic public health moves to suppress infection, we wouldn’t be talking about a high reservoir of infection which can then spike very quickly when conditions change.”

Professor Reicher said he believed vaccines had weakened the link between cases and hospital admissions but it was not broken.

He told Times Radio that “vaccination has made a huge difference but the danger is if we overstate it, and we over-rely on it, actually we undermine all its good effects”.

He added: “So it’s belt and braces, of course vaccination makes a difference but it doesn’t mean you forget about everything else.”

Dominic Raab’s mobile number freely available online for last decade

Last year from “the secret diaries” we learned that Hugo had “Dave’s” personal phone number. In retrospect was this such a big deal? – Owl

Jessica Elgot 

The private mobile number of Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, has been online for at least 11 years, raising questions for the security services weeks after the prime minister’s number was also revealed to be accessible to anyone.

Raab’s number was discovered by a Guardian reader using a Google search. It appears to have been online since before he became an MP in 2010, and remained after he became foreign secretary and first secretary of state – de facto deputy prime minister – in 2019.

The web page showing the number also contained other personal details for Raab. It has since been removed following extensive correspondence with the website by the Guardian, and the number no longer appears online or via Google.

The foreign secretary has previously warned of the cybersecurity threat posed by rogue states.

In April, it emerged that Boris Johnson’s personal mobile could be found at the bottom of a press release and had been online for 15 years, raising questions over why the confidentiality of senior politicians’ contact details was not thoroughly investigated.

The former UK national security adviser Peter Ricketts said the breach regarding Raab’s number showed more attention must be paid to online security.

“The wide availability of Mr Raab’s personal phone number must increase the risk that other states, or even criminal gangs, have been able to eavesdrop on his calls,” he said. “It also means that anyone who happens to have had his phone number … is able to lobby the foreign secretary, bypassing the official channels which everyone else has to use. Anyone taking on a role as sensitive as this should in their own interests pay as much attention to online as to physical security.”

The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, called for an investigation. She said: “This is a staggering lapse in security from a foreign secretary who, only last month, was lecturing Nato allies about the cybersecurity threat posed by authoritarian regimes.

“It is typical of the government’s approach that when it comes to national security and defending democracy they say one thing but do another. This should be the subject of an investigation. Both the prime minister and foreign secretary have failed to protect their own phones. How can we be assured they aren’t as careless with sensitive intelligence and diplomatic cables too?”

The government said it had requested the removal of the web page containing Raab’s details after being alerted by the Guardian.

Johnson’s number was found on a thinktank press release, unearthed by the newsletter Popbitch, related to his work as a shadow higher education minister when he was also MP for Henley, inviting journalists to contact him for comment. The number has since been disconnected.

Last week, the Mail on Sunday reported that MI5 had been given the go-ahead to examine the phone for possible hacks.

Concerns are also said to have been raised over the amount of government business conducted on WhatsApp amid fears over the risk that significant private information could be read if a phone were stolen or hacked.

Senior officials had reportedly advised Johnson to change his phone number due to concerns about how many people had access to it from his time as a journalist, MP and mayor of London, but he is said to have refused.

Johnson was criticised for text message exchanges with the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Dominic Cummings, formerly the prime minister’s most senior aide, recently revealed details of government WhatsApp groups that coordinated the coronavirus pandemic response, involving the prime minister, health secretary and the country’s most senior medical and scientific advisers.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “Private information was wrongly retained online, before the foreign secretary’s appointment. Once we were made aware, we had it removed immediately. Most of it was out of date, and no security was compromised.”

The Tory donors, peers and former aides who have been appointed non-executive directors

More than a dozen Conservative donors, peers and former aides have been handed top jobs overseeing Whitehall departments as non-executive directors, it can be revealed today.

John Stevens

Ministers are facing growing scrutiny over the roles after Downing Street yesterday admitted Matt Hancock personally appointed Gina Coladangelo – who was revealed as his lover last week – as a NED at the Department of Health.

The departmental board members are supposed to be recruited through ‘fair and transparent competition’ and come ‘primarily from the commercial private sector, with experience of managing complex organisations’.

But at least 13 of those currently holding the positions – which carry an average salary of £15,000 per year – have close links to the Conservatives.

They include donors who have contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds to party coffers. 

Lord Nash, who is the Government’s lead non-executive director across Whitehall, is a former Tory schools minister who has donated more than £484,000. 

The peer is also a NED at the Cabinet Office led by Michael Gove. He gave £3,250 to Mr Gove’s failed 2016 Tory leadership campaign.

Another Cabinet Office NED, Henry de Zoete, is a former special adviser to Mr Gove.

At the Department for International Trade board members include former Tory vice-chairman Dominic Johnson, who has donated £290,000 to the party.

He is a business partner of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg – they co-founded investment firm Somerset Capital Management.

Former Tory MP Douglas Carswell also sits on the department’s board. Baroness McGregor-Smith, who ran to be Conservative candidate for London Mayor, is a NED at the Department for Education along with Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former No10 joint chief-of-staff.

Eleanor Shawcross, who was a special adviser to former chancellor George Osborne, is a NED at the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Baroness Wyld, who worked in No10 as an aide to ex-PM David Cameron, is one at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Lord Hill, who served in Mr Cameron’s Cabinet as Leader of the Lords, is a NED at the Treasury.

Fellow Tory Baroness Morrissey has the same role at the Foreign Office.

Ben Goldsmith sits on the board at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs where his brother Zac is a minister. 

He has donated £76,000 to the party, including £2,500 to Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, who is also a minister in the department.

Nick Campsie, a NED at the Ministry of Justice, states on his LinkedIn page that he ‘campaigned on behalf of the Conservative Party during the EU referendum and has made donations in support of the party’s activities’. 

Wol Kolade, who is a non-executive director at NHS Improvement, has given more than £859,000 to the Conservatives, including £15,000 to Mr Hancock.

There were fresh questions yesterday about the appointments after No10 said former health secretary Mr Hancock had personally handed Miss Coladangelo her role as a NED last September.

Mr Hancock stood down on Saturday after leaked footage showed him in an intimate embrace with Miss Coladangelo on May 6 when such contact between households was advised against. 

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘I believe ministers are entitled to make direct appointments. Her appointment followed correct procedure.’

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson said: ‘The Government must publish all documents relating to the appointment of Gina Coladangelo. 

‘The role of a non-executive director is to challenge and scrutinise the minister. 

‘We need to know if the nature of their relationship was declared and whether the recruitment process was carried out in a fair and transparent way.’

It remains unclear if their romance began before she was appointed to the department or if this was ever declared as a conflict of interest. 

But Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News: ‘Everything that I understand so far leads me to believe due process was followed in the appointment of this person and any declarations that should’ve been made were made.’ 

Up for sale: What is happening to your Health Data?

Looks like the Tories were stitching up a deal to sell NHS data in 2019.

On 12 May this year, then health secretary Matt Hancock quietly issued a legal direction to every GP in England, instructing them to upload their patient records to a central database, with patients given just a few weeks to find out about the plans. This has now been paused.

However, if you live in Somerset tough, because Somerset Foundation Trust has already done a deal.

Opendemocracy is holding a free webinar on the subject.

Principle stitched up in Davos in 2019 (from Politico website)

The U.K. government began courting U.S. data and surveillance firm Palantir to work on ways to tap patient data from the NHS back in January 2019, according to documents seen by POLITICO’s Graham Lanktree that shed light on the relationship with the controversial company.

In a meeting at Davos that year, former Trade Secretary Liam Fox encouraged the U.S. data giant’s executives to make use of “untapped” NHS data. Internal emails, meeting briefings and readouts obtained through freedom of information law show that efforts to help Palantir win U.K. government work were underway long before the coronavirus crisis, with ministers and officials making direct references to the potential of Britain’s health service as they tried to drum up inward investment.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust has already done a deal

NHS data sale ‘an invasion of privacy’, campaigners say

BBC News

An NHS trust has said it will consult patients before selling 1.1 million medical records it owns to a private firm later this year.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust struck the deal with Sensyne Health in November 2020 but is yet to transfer any information.

Campaigners have labelled the plan “an invasion of privacy”.

The trust said: “We will not share information with Sensyne that can identify a patient.”

The deal is worth up to £1.25m and Somerset is one of 11 NHS trusts which have signed deals with the Oxford-based data firm.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust runs mental health and community services, 13 community hospitals in Somerset and hospital services from Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital.

Earlier this month, the creation of a central digital database using GP records in England was pushed back, amid concerns patients needed more time to understand the system.

Sensyne said it uses “anonymised” data, which it analyses on behalf of other organisations, including drug companies, enabling its clients to produce new drugs and treatments.

In return, NHS trusts can get shares in the company and a proportion of profits.

However, privacy campaigners have disputed whether the data really is anonymised and have claimed it could still be used to identify patients.

Former IT consultant David Orr from Taunton has been campaigning against the deal since it was announced.

He said: “In my case I’ve got a particular combination of historical [health] conditions and it wouldn’t take a computer very long to work out that my age range, gender and a couple of historical conditions would only really be me.”

He also believes people should be able to opt out of having their data shared for commercial purposes.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has confirmed patients who have opted out of sharing information via the national data opt-out will still have their data shared under this agreement.

Mr Orr said this is unacceptable: “In the private sector, when we share our details for example to a phone company, you don’t expect those to be shared with other organisations.”

CEO of Sensyne Health Lord Drayson, said: “This agreement will enable research to improve patient care and accelerate medical research by helping to grow our overall data set to over 5.6 million patients.”

The trust has told the BBC it will supply a patient’s age range, gender and the first part of their postcode, as well as medical information. This fits the definition of “anonymised” data required by the data protection law GDPR, it added.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s director of strategic development and improvement David Shannon said: ” We will not share information with Sensyne that can identify a patient.

“The terms of the contract provide our organisation with the investment needed for us to anonymise the data before providing it to Sensyne Health and for us to benefit from any breakthroughs that Sensyne makes.

“The monies we receive from Sensyne Health will be invested in our analytical capability to support research and improve patient care.

“We want people to have confidence in how their personal data will be used and we know that it’s crucial that, from the start, we clearly explain this to people.

It has has promised “local engagement events” in the autumn.

A spokesperson for Sensyne added: “We never sell data, we never share data, data never leaves Sensyne, and we never use data for anything other than for the purposes of medical research.

“The data is owned by the NHS Trust not Sensyne. Sensyne complies with the strictest standards of data security and privacy.

What’s happening to your GP data and what can you do about it? 

Welcome! You are invited to join a webinar: What’s happening to your GP data and what can you do about it?. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email about joining the webinar.

Health data is both hugely sensitive and immensely valuable – to our health, and to big business. The UK’s NHS data has been valued at £10bn. And our GP data – with details of everything from diagnoses and medications to depression, abortions, sexually transmitted infections and addictions – is the most detailed, valuable and sensitive of all.

On 12 May this year, then health secretary Matt Hancock quietly issued a legal direction to every GP in England, instructing them to upload their patient records to a central database, with patients given just a few weeks to find out about the plans.

openDemocracy, along with a coalition of other groups issued a legal threat that has forced the government to pause the process. But what does this mean for your health data, what will happen next, and what can you do about it?

Join us (register here) in the free, live discussion as we explore this topic with an expert panel. Hear from:

Helen Salisbury – GP, lecturer, and writer for the British Medical Journal

Diarmaid McDonald – Lead organiser, Just Treatment

Phil Booth – Coordinator, MedConfidential

Chair: Caroline Molloy – editor, openDemocracy UK