British Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock of the UK. Photo: PRU / STRINGER

Matt Hancock, the former health secretary of the UK, has become the centre of a massive controversy after it came to light that he allegedly failed to follow advice on COVID-19 testing.

Thousands of WhatsApp messages have been leaked to the Daily Telegraph, showing that Hancock did not heed the advice given by England's Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, about testing everyone who goes into care homes in April 2020.

Instead of testing all the people going into care homes, Hancock decided to make it compulsory to test only those entering care homes from hospitals. Testing for everyone was made mandatory only in August 2020, by then the situation had already escalated.

Thousands of people residing in care homes died in England and Wales between April and August 2020.

The messages that have become public reveal how the UK government handled COVID-19. They were sent to the newspaper by journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

Oakeshott got her hands on the messages when she was helping Hancock write his own book, Pandemic Diaries. She was given copies of these messages, per a report in The Guardian. The journalist is known to have been critical of lockdowns.

The revelations related to care home testing protocols are only the trailer, and much more is expected to be revealed in the coming days. According to the leaked messages, Whitty told Hancock that "all going into care homes" should be tested for COVID-19 in April 2020.

He then told his aides about Whitty's advice, saying that it represented a "good positive step" and that "we must put it in the doc."

One of his aides then suggested that he send the request "to action." However, a different exchange showed that Hancock eventually rejected the guidelines and introduced compulsory testing only for those going into care homes from hospitals.

Hancock said that he would rather "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. Hancock's spokesperson, however, has dismissed all of these reports claiming that the messages were "doctored."

The spokesperson went on to add that the then health secretary "enthusiastically accepted" Whitty's advice, but he was later informed that it was not possible to test everyone currently, and he accepted the advice.

"Later that day he convened an operational meeting on delivering testing for care homes where he was advised it was not currently possible to test everyone entering care homes, which he also accepted," he said.

"Matt concluded that the testing of people leaving hospital for care homes should be prioritised because of the higher risks of transmission, as it wasn't possible to mandate everyone going into care homes got tested," the spokesperson added.

He said that the text about the meeting had been deliberately removed from the leaked portion. "These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing," the spokesperson said. "This is flat wrong."

Meanwhile, Oakeshott has defended her actions saying that the official CCOVID inquiry could be a "colossal whitewash" and that people cannot wait for answers. According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 43,000 people died of COVID-19 in care homes in England between March 2020 and January 2022.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to comment on "piecemeal bits of information."

"There is a proper process to these things. It is an independent inquiry. It has the resources it needs. It has the powers it needs and what we should all do in this House is let them get on and do their job," he said.