Ministers rally behind Covid probe after Hancock WhatsApp revelations Health insurance

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Ministers are struggling to maintain confidence in the official Covid inquiry after it emerged that Matt Hancock handed over 100,000 official WhatsApp messages to a journalist known to be an outspoken critic of the lockdown.

Messages passed by the former health secretary to Isabel Oakeshott, who then forwarded them to the Daily Telegraph, prompted groups of bereaved families and labor to call for more teeth to be handed over to tests and to be completed faster.

Hancock and a serving health minister both insisted that what the Telegraph billed as a major revelation – advice to test everyone entering a care home for Covid at the start of the pandemic – was presented misleadingly and other evidence was ignored.

Hancock has reacted furiously to Oakeshott’s decision to provide The Telegraph with the messages originally delivered to him so that he could write his pandemic diary memoir, and is said to be considering whether There has been a breach of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) between the pair.

The Telegraph’s initial story about the messages focused on an April 2020 exchange in which Prof Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, told Hancock that “all [people] should be tested for moving to a care home”, recommending “isolation whilst awaiting results”.

According to another leaked message, Hancock dismissed an aide, saying that such a move “muddy the waters”.

Hancock, who was Boris Johnson’s health secretary during the peak of the pandemic, said the narrative had been “theorised to create a false narrative”.

Social Care Minister Helen Whalley, who held the same position at the start of the pandemic, also called the story misleading. She said the UK only had access to a limited number of tests, and highlighted what she described as an email sent shortly after the critical message exchange call for testing on hospital patients entering care homes.

Care minister rubbishes claim Matt Hancock ignored advice on Covid testing – VIDEO

The revelations so far, with more stories likely in the coming days, are nonetheless unsettling for Hancock and the government.

There was a sense of confusion among many MPs about Hancock’s decision to hand over such a tranche of sensitive information about the pandemic response to a journalist noted for his anti-lockdown views. “I think Isabel is a fantastic journalist. She is not a very good friend,” former health minister James Bethel told the BBC.

Several cabinet ministers in Johnson’s government have privately expressed anger and dismay at Hancock over the “naïveté” of his disclosure, despite the fact that he had drawn up an NDA with Oakeshott.

Other messages given to the Telegraph suggested:

  • Pupils in English schools were told to wear face masks, after Johnson was told by Whitty that there was limited evidence of the policy’s efficacy after being told by Whitty that the issue was “not worth an argument” with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

  • Hancock asked George Osborne, the Conservative ex-Chancellor for whom he had once worked, for favorable coverage in the Evening Standard newspaper, which Osborne edited at the time.

  • Well, as the Minister for Care, warned that the ban on visitors to care homes at the time was “inhumane”.

  • An adviser to Hancock helped send a Covid test to the home of the then leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, in September 2020 – amid a backlog in testing – for one of his children.

Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions to criticize the “outrageous and sordid spectacle” of Hancock’s book, and demanded that the official Covid-19 inquiry, which will only formally begin hearing evidence later this month , Will carry out its conclusions till the end. of this year.

Rishi Sunak told Starr: “Rather than comment on pieces of information, I’m sure [Starmer] Will agree with me the right way to look at these things is covid test.

“There is a due process for these things, it is an independent investigation, it has the necessary resources, it has the necessary powers, and what we in this House should do is let them go ahead and do their job.”

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said coverage of the WhatsApp messages showed the need to represent families at the hearing and allow witnesses such as Hancock to be cross-examined.

But in a particularly strong response, the chairman of the inquiry opened Wednesday’s session by dismissing Oakeshott’s justification for betraying Hancock’s trust. Oakeshott wrote that he leaked the messages because it would take “many years” before the end of the inquiry, which could be a “huge whitewash”.

Without naming Oakeshott, former judge Heather Hallett directly addressed the journalist’s claims, saying that someone “with statutory powers to receive evidence, with key participants playing a significant role and with exceptionally broad terms of reference” There was no other similar test. Lady Hallet added: “Apart from this, I want to stress that there will be no whitewashing.”

The expected stream of further stories based on the messages not only raises questions about the efficacy and timetable of the investigation, but also reignites wider arguments about the Covid response, including whether lockdown measures should be was implemented effectively.

Adding to the confusion, there was speculation that Hancock may have violated data regulations by passing on the stack of messages without other people’s consent.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Information Commissioner’s Office said it did not consider the messages to be an issue that needed to be considered, citing exemptions for literary purposes in areas such as journalism and in the public interest.

However, it added that the saga “raised questions about the conditions under which departing members of government retain and subsequently access official information, which needs to be considered by organizations such as the Cabinet Office”. “.

In response to the initial Telegraph stories, Hancock – who resigned as health secretary in June 2021 after he breached his own Covid rules by teaming up with a colleague – said the paper had “stolen messages”. makes use of [that] has been manipulated to create a false narrative”.

Additional reporting by Ben Quinn and aletha adu

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