Matt Hancock disputes claim he rejected care home Covid advice

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has disputed claims he rejected expert advice on Covid tests for people going into care homes in England at the start of the pandemic.

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 spokesman for Mr Hancock said the messages had been “doctored”.

“These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong,” he said in a statement.

The BBC has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages nor the context in which they were sent.

The Telegraph has obtained more than 100,000 messages sent between Mr Hancock and other ministers and officials at the height of the pandemic.

The texts were passed to the newspaper 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.

What do the WhatsApp messages say?

In one message, dated 14 April, Mr Hancock reportedly told aides that Prof 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.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said this followed an operational meeting, where he was advised it was not possible to test everyone entering care homes.

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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.

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

Social Care Minister Helen Whately, who held the same role in 2020, said “the importance of testing was never in doubt” but “tough decisions” on prioritising the tests available had to be made.

Responding to an urgent question from Labour in the Commons, she said “selective snippets of WhatsApp conversations give a limited and at times misleading insight”.

She pointed to an email at the time which said the government should “press ahead straight away” with hospitals testing patients being moved to care homes and that the government should “aspire to, as soon as capacity allows” for testing of everyone going into care homes.

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