Leaked messages reveal that Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejected expert advice to introduce Covid testing in care homes at the start of the pandemic, despite warnings from Professor Chris Whitty.
In WhatsApp messages between the two in April 2020, Whitty urged testing for “all going into care homes,” but Hancock ignored the advice, stating that it would “muddy the waters.”
Instead, the minister introduced guidance that made testing mandatory for those entering care homes from hospitals, but not for those arriving from the community.
Prior to this, care homes were told that negative tests were not necessary, even for hospital patients. The advice that those coming in from the community should be tested was not introduced until August 14, 2020.
Between April 17 and August 13, 2020, 17,678 people died of Covid in care homes in England. Hancock later told MPs that transmission from the community, particularly from staff, was the “strongest route” for the virus to enter care homes.
Leaked WhatsApp messages published in the Daily Telegraph, which obtained more than 100,000 exchanges between Hancock, other ministers, and officials, reveal that he expressed concerns over expanding testing in care homes.
The Health Secretary said it could “get in the way” of his self-imposed target of 100,000 Covid tests per day.
Mortality rates in English care homes increased by 79 percent in the first 16 weeks of the pandemic, and by April, the risk of death for a care home resident was 17 times higher than for someone living at home.
Mr Hancock did not immediately comment on the leaked messages.