Breaking news: Hancock rejected expert Covid advice, leaked messages suggest

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock reportedly failed to follow expert advice that anyone entering a care home at the start of the pandemic should be tested for Covid, it has been claimed.

By Christy Cooney

WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph newspaper suggest Mr Hancock was told in April 2020 there should be “testing of all going into care homes”.

Government guidance later mandated tests only for those leaving hospital.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said the leaks offered a “distorted account”.

They added that the messages had been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda” and that the public inquiry into the pandemic was the “proper place for an objective assessment”.

The BBC has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages.

The texts were passed to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who has been critical of lockdowns. Ms Oakeshott was given copies of the texts while helping Mr Hancock write his book, Pandemic Diaries.

In one message, dated 14 April, Mr Hancock reportedly told aides that Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medial Officer for England, had conducted an “evidence review” and recommended “testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result”.

The message came a day before the publication of “Covid-19: Our Action Plan for Adult Social Care“, a government document setting out plans to keep the care system functioning during the pandemic.

Mr Hancock said the advice represented a “good positive step” and that “we must put into the doc”, to which an aide responded that he had sent the request “to action”.

But 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.

When the care plan was published on 15 April, it said the government would “institute a policy of testing all residents prior to admission to care homes”, but that that would “begin with all those being discharged from hospital”.

It said only that it would “move to” a policy of testing everyone entering care homes from the community.

Guidance stating that tests should be carried out for everyone entering care homes was not introduced until 14 August, the Telegraph reports.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, from March 2020 to January 2022, there were 43,256 deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes in England.

Of those, more than 17,000 occurred in the four months between Mr Hancock being given the advice and it being implemented.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. What the messages do show is a lot of people working hard to save lives.

“The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available.”

The public inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic is now underway and is due to begin hearing evidence in June.