Matt Hancock hatched a plot to try to oust Sir Simon Stevens, a long-standing thorn in the government’s side, from his role as head of the NHS in England, leaked messages from the former health secretary reveal.
Hancock conspired with Dominic Cummings, chief advisor to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to remove Stevens before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
But his determination to oust Stevens appears to have been strengthened by a series of subsequent clashes over his handling of the virus and the rollout of the first Covid vaccine in late 2020.
Hancock’s latest batch of WhatsApp and text messages revealed in the Sunday Telegraph also show he removed Sir Jeremy Farrar – who will become chief scientist at the World Health Organization in April – as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group . for emergencies (Sage), after the scientist criticized the government’s handling of Covid.
On Simon Stevens, Cummings messaged Hancock on 21 January 2020 to ask: “Where are we at with the SS?”. The health secretary replied: “It’s on the train. i am getting first [NHS England board member and ex-Labour health minister] Ara the tailor asked him to persuade him that it was in his interest to go now. If that doesn’t work I’ll go straight.
Two weeks later, Cummings suggested to Hancock that “we should get on with it now. Announce it next week as part of the reshuffle frenzy and it would all be lost in that”.
The messages do not reveal why the Minister and Number 10’s advisor did not want Stevens out. However, the NHS chief – an ex-Labour councilor who advised Tony Blair on health in the early 2000s – has troubled a succession of Conservative ministers since taking office in 2014, particularly over the running of the health service With his outspoken criticisms. Wealth.
The Covid lockdown exacerbated existing tensions. The messages also reveal that Hancock’s special adviser Alan Nixon warned his boss that “it looks like you are losing your grip in front of Number 10” when he was clearly angry at Stevens at a Downing Street meeting. Have become.
The Health Secretary replied: “That’s fine – he must know he’s talking massive rubbish.”
Stevens also drew the ire of Hancock in May 2020 for not warning him about plans to announce that the dental surgery would be able to reopen to patients later that month. Johnson told Hancock that the NHS boss “took a goose” at him because ministers had been expected to make the announcement themselves.
The beginning of December 2020 brought another confrontation. Stevens was angered by media reports that “millions” of people would be given Covid drugs before Christmas. In a message sent to a WhatsApp group consisting of Hancock and senior officials, Stevens said: ‘There is no version of reality that ‘several million people will receive the vaccine before Christmas’ so whoever provided the information wanted some immediate correction before that.” necessarily becomes clear.
When Stevens announced in April 2021 that he was stepping down after seven years in office and leaving that summer, Hancock praised him for being “a resolute and wise leader for our National Health Service”, and that This was especially true during the most testing period. NHS History. He also praised Stevens’ “strong contribution” to the running of the NHS. Stevens became a life peer in the summer of 2021 and sits as a crossbencher.
Hancock branded Farrar “worse than useless” and “a complete loudmouth” following a series of disagreements over government COVID policy. Farrar was a world-renowned expert on infectious diseases and a director of the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, as well as a member of Sage. He condemned the government’s abolition of Public Health England (PHE) and the appointment of Tory peer Dido Harding as head of the widely criticized Test and Trace programme.
absconding Tweeted The removal of PHE in August 2020 included “arbitrary dismissal”. Accusation. Ill thought out means of short term, reactionary reforms… withholding the inevitable public scrutiny. This prompted Hancock and the Minister of Health, Lord Bethel, to see if the scientist could be removed from SAGE.
Hancock also told Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Care, that: “We have to do something about Farrar. Can we set it on fire? This is completely unacceptable.”
Farrar recently left Wellcome to take up a new role as Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization.
Hancock’s messages also reveal he accused fellow cabinet member Michael Gove of making “a drama for my job” after the then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the Times that NHS treatment waiting times Will cut, despite Covid putting additional pressure. This.
Hancock told his media special adviser, Damon Poole, that he was “not at all happy” with Gove, with whom he was otherwise very friendly, the messages show.