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Top Stories: Matt Hancock's Covid WhatsApps, NHS Missing Backlog Targets, PM Curbs Protocol Rebellion

Matt Hancock. (Alamy)

4 min read

Leaked messages have allegedly shown that Matt Hancock rejected advice to test and segregate residents entering care homes for Covid at the height of the pandemic while serving as health secretary.

The Telegraph, which says it has obtained 100,000 of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages during the pandemic, claims that former the health secretary ignored the advice of chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty on care home Covid testing.

The report claims Hancock said expanding testing to care home residents could “muddy the waters” and also “get in the way” of the 100,000 tests a day target he set himself early in the pandemic.  

A spokesperson Hancock has said: "These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong."

A source close to Hancock told PA: “Having not been approached in advance by the Telegraph, we have reviewed the messages overnight.

The Telegraph intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp. This is critical, because Matt was supportive of Chris Whitty’s advice, held a meeting on its deliverability, told it wasn’t deliverable, and insisted on testing all those who came from hospitals.

The Telegraph have been informed that their headline is wrong, and Matt is considering all options available to him.

“This major error by Isabel Oakeshott and the Telegraph shows why the proper place for analysis like this is the Inquiry, not a partial, agenda-driven leak of confidential documents.”

Responding to the story, then health minister Lord Bethell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: "The thing that held us back was not a dispute about the clinical advice, it was simply the operational ability to administer tests."

The government’s Covid inquiry has begun looking into the management of the pandemic, with issues over testing of patients discharged into care homes  – where there were a high number of Covid deaths – set to be one of the key areas being investigated.

Rishi Sunak still staving off back bench rebellion on 'Windsor framework'

The Prime Minister appears to be continuing to avert open revolt from Tory back benchers over his Northern Ireland deal, 48 hours after he announced the 'Windsor framework' with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

In a positive sign for Sunak, leading Brexiteer and former chief negotiator of the now defunct Task Force Europe Lord Frost has said that while the deal is a “bitter pill to swallow” he believes "it will help" and also “remove the underlying tensions”.

"This deal softens the application of the Protocol, but does not remove it," Frost wrote.

“It’s the best we could persuade the EU to do because we weren’t prepared to use the Protocol Bill and the EU knew it’.”

On Tuesday PoliticsHome reported that allies of Sunak are increasingly optimistic that the prime minister has managed to avoid open revolt from the ultra-Brexit wing of his party.

However, Sunak may not be out of the woods yet – with the details of a meeting of the staunchly Brexit European Research Group (ERG) of MPs on Tuesday night yet to emerge; the DUP is also still yet to issue its verdict on the deal.

The deal, which will ease the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and also curtail some of the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) influence, has been generally welcomed by Westminster on both sides of the house.  

NHS Missing Covid backlog targets

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has said the government is already missing its targets for its £14bn three-year recovery programme – warning outcomes for cancer treatment are “especially worrying”.

The new report finds only 62 per cent of cancer patients are being treated within the first 62 days of urgent care referral by a GP when the figure should have been 85 per cent.

Elsewhere, the report says that the plan to increase elective care activity to 129 per cent is now “unachievable” – warning patients are “suffering the unacceptable consequences of waiting too long”.

The committee says it now has “serious doubts” that the end points of the government’s NHS recovery plan will be reached on time, describing the assumptions from NHS England about the first year of the plan as “over-optimistic”.

It also warns the overall strategy for elective and cancer waiting times “lacks detail on how and when these programmes will combine to create additional capacity and at what cost”.

Among its recommendations is increasing the capacity of adult social care to improve the flow through hospitals, and a strategic approach to ensuring “a productive healthcare workforce of the right size”.

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