NEARLY three years after the Covid UK lockdown, more evidence is emerging highlighting a reckless and dangerous level of incompetence by the Tory Government, and Matt Hancock in particular, in the management of this crisis.
Following the leaking of over 100,000 WhatsApp messages, it is clear that, far from trying to do his best in unknown and very difficult circumstances, Matt Hancock actually ignored expert advice and this had catastrophic consequences for thousands of people in the care sector. By the end of the first wave in England and Wales (August 2020) the Office for National Statistics, (ONS) estimated that almost a third of all deaths occurring among care home residents in the pandemic had been due to Covid-19. Even these worrying statistics are likely to be an underestimate, given the low level of testing in care homes at the time.
About a month into the pandemic, in April 2020, Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, (CMO) said there should be testing for “all going into care homes.” However, the leaked messages show that Matt Hancock chose to ignore this guidance, telling his advisors that it “muddies the waters.”
Initially, testing was not required for anyone entering care homes either from hospitals or the community. Hancock made testing for hospital discharges mandatory in mid-April, after the first wave of deaths had peaked. There was no such requirement for those entering care homes from the community.
The significant news here is that Hancock chose to ignore one form of expert advice. The fact that care homes were being led like lambs to the slaughter during the pandemic is not a surprise to anyone who has followed this issue over the years. In fact, in early March 2020, care providers held an emergency meeting with Department of Health officials in which they begged the Government not to force them to accept untested residents. However, weeks later, official advice remained that tests were not mandatory, and thousands of residents are thought to have returned to their homes without a negative Covid result. Sam Monaghan, the chief executive of MHA, the largest charitable provider of care homes in the UK, said at the time: “On 12th March, there was a meeting of a number of large care home providers with the department to talk about the pressure that the NHS could come under, and whether or not we could facilitate and support the NHS by taking patients who we could care for. We were very, very clear right from the get-go, even before we knew the worst ravages of Covid, that we couldn’t take people unless they were tested.”
It is therefore unlikely that anyone will be surprised by this latest revelation. All the evidence shows that Boris Johnson and his band of brigands operated purely on the basis of self-interest. As well as the proven illegality of awarding PPE contracts to friends and family, the most recent leak shows that officials couriered Jacob Rees-Mogg a Covid test for one of his children, while there was a shortage. Very tellingly, Matt Hancock is reported as having told George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, “I want to hit my target!” as he pushed for favourable front page coverage.
However, just as interesting, is the source of the leak. Isabel Oakeshott is a right-wing journalist and supposed friend of Hancock. Why he would entrust tens of thousands of WhatsApp messages to someone who had already betrayed another friend, David Cameron, by making the extraordinary claim that he had “sex with the head of a dead pig in a student escapade”, is incomprehensible. If nothing else, it shows a lack of judgement on a monumental scale. As they say, there is no loyalty among thieves.
It is also worth remembering that in April 2020, as thousands were being left to die, Sir Keir Starmer thought the appropriate response to the mounting Covid crisis was to polish his right-wing credentials. At PMQs, faced with a Secretary for Health who was clearly, and demonstrably, incompetent Sir Keir said that his approach to Covid had, “been an amazing piece of work.” That cosy political consensus, which on the big issues continues, killed 206,246 people. Many of them were elderly, many could have been saved, if only the political class had followed the lead provided by more compassionate politicians such as Jacinda Ardern who presided over fewer than 4,000 deaths.