A minister has dismissed claims Matt Hancock ignored scientific advice on Covid tests for care homes.
Care Minister Helen Whatley claimed “selective snippets” of the leaked WhatsApp messages were misleading. She acknowledged there was a “limited amount” of tests at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, but said the government was faced with “difficult decisions” about who to prioritize for them.
She backed Hancock, the former health secretary, and pointed to a previously undisclosed email she said was the latest evidence that she followed public health advice rather than ignoring Chris Whitty, the then chief medical officer for England Was.
Whitty is said to have told Hancock in April 2020 that “all [people] According to a cache of 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages obtained by The Telegraph, visits to care homes “should” be tested, and “isolation whilst awaiting results” is recommended.
Hospital patients transferred to care homes had been tested by that point, but it took several months for those arriving from the community to do the same.
Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Whatley said an email was sent shortly after the text exchange. “It says we can move straight ahead to testing patients in hospitals who are going to care homes,” Whatley said.
He said the email sets out an aspiration that “as soon as capacity allows and we have worked out an operational way of delivering this” then “everybody moving from the community into a care home can be tested”. No explanation was given as to who sent the email.
Refuting criticism of the government’s handling of Covid, Whatley said he was surprised and dismayed by comments from MPs who said care homes were neglected at the start of the pandemic.
He also said the attacks from opposition MPs were a “political game”, and other senior Conservatives who jumped to Hancock’s defense called him “opportunistic”.
Asked whether other ministers had had Covid tests couriered to them, as Hancock’s aide claimed had happened to one of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children, Whately said only that he had taken the same service Used as everyone else does.
Hancock was not present in Parliament for immediate questions, but has strongly denied any wrongdoing since the launch of the Daily Telegraph investigation, which has been referred to as the “Lockdown File”.
He has said that private messages received by Isabel Oakeshott (who co-authored his “pandemic diary”) were “stolen” and that it was “categorically untrue” that she ignored Whitty’s advice. .
Labor called on Hancock to aim for “more humility and less celebrity”. Shadow Care Minister, Liz Kendall said that contrary to Hancock’s claim that a “protective cordon” had been put in place around care homes during Covid, the WhatsApp messages showed that “nothing could be further from the truth”. Is”.
He said 17,000 people had died from Covid in care homes amid Whitty’s advice to test everyone visiting care homes – including the community – and the government followed suit. Kendall claimed that the care home’s residents and staff “were not a priority”.
Earlier, Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions to challenge Rishi Sunak over the slow progress of the Covid investigation and said the disclosure of Hancock’s messages would cause great pain to bereaved families.
The labor leader said, “We don’t know the truth of what happened yet.” “There are too many messages and too many unknowns. But families across the country will look into it – politicians writing books portraying themselves as heroes, or selectively leaking messages, would be a humiliating and harrowing spectacle for them .
“At the heart of it is every family who made enormous sacrifices for the good of the country, or who tragically lost their loved ones. The country deserves better than this.”
Starmer called for the investigation to be completed by the end of this year. Sunak said the process was being fully resourced but it was independent and ministers could not set the time.
A spokesman for Hancock said: “These stolen messages have been directed to create a false narrative that Matt refused clinical advice on the care home trial. This is patently false. On 14 April, Matt received a reply to his request for advice from the Chief Medical Officer that testing was required for people going into care homes, which he enthusiastically accepted.
“Later that day he called an operational meeting to introduce testing for care homes, where he was advised that it was not currently possible to test everyone entering care homes, which he accepted. Matt concluded that due to the high risks of transmission priority should be given to testing people leaving hospital for care homes, as it was not possible to test everyone going into care homes.
“The Telegraph has proofread messages by deleting a key line from the text [his adviser] Alan Nixon. Nixon says ‘I was not at the test MTG’, which changes the context of the exchange depicted in the article. It shows that there was a meeting in which the delivery was advised. Barring this, the messages imply that Matt simply dismissed clinical advice. This is plainly untrue. He went as far as possible to expand testing and save lives, as quickly as possible. This story clearly shows that the right place for analyzing what happened in the pandemic is in question.
Hancock is said to be “considering all options” in response to the leaking of Oakeshott’s WhatsApp messages while working on his memoir.
“She has broken a legal NDA. Her behavior is outrageous,” said a source close to the former health secretary.