Labour has accused former health secretary Matt Hancock of failing to place a “protective ring” around care homes during the pandemic. As health secretary, Mr Hancock repeatedly insisted that care homes were being protected, a line Labour has cast doubt on after the uncovering of leaked WhatsApp messages the then-health secretary sent through Covid.
The leaked messages, seen by The Telegraph, show Mr Hancock expressing concern that expanding testing in care homes could “get in the way” of his target of 100,000 Covid tests per day.
The 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”.
However, the messages suggests Mr Hancock rejected that advice, telling an aide that the move “muddies the waters”, instead introducing mandatory testing just for those coming from hospitals.
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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.”
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.
Speaking to Sky News this morning, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden, said: “We were told at the time that the government was putting a protective ring around care homes.
“And it was particularly sensitive because I think even in the early days of COVID, we knew that elderly people in care homes were particularly vulnerable to this”.
He added: “So the stories this morning suggest that the protective ring wasn’t there, that people were being allowed to go into care homes who could have been positive, contrary to the advice of the chief medical officer at the time”.
Labour MP Jess Phillips has also tweeted: “If details about how Hancock was more bothered about hitting his target on testing by possibly wasting tests that led to less capacity in care homes is true then imagine how those who lost loved ones in that week will feel. This lot its always headlines before front lines”.
Mr Hancock has also come under criticism form within his the Conservative party, with MP Bim Afolami saying that there is a “real problem” of people in Government “making decisions on the fly” via WhatsApp messages.
He told TalkTV: “The Covid inquiry is going to flush all of this out anyway. There are two things that strike me from the snippets that we have heard.
“The first is people have to be incredibly careful about what they put on emails and WhatsApp messages and text messages and the reason why, by the way, is not out of some sort of political ‘oh, you have got to hide what you are doing’, I really don’t mean that”.
Mr Hancock’s messages were leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who received them while working on Mr Hancock’s “Pandemic Diaries” memoir.
She outlined that she was releasing them because it could take “many years” before an official inquiry is completed and “we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers”.