Matt Hancock rejected official advice to give Covid tests to all residents going into English care homes, according to a report based on a trove of more than 100,000 leaked WhatsApps messages.
The messages were leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she collaborated with Mr Hancock of his controversial Pandemic Diaries memoir.
The messages show England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
But the messages suggest Mr Hancock rejected the guidance, telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters”, and introduced mandatory testing for those coming from hospitals.
But the Tory MP disputes the “distorted account” and a spokesman alleged that the have been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
Mr Hancock was said to be “considering all options” in response to Ms Oakeshott’s leak to The Telegraph, with a source close to him saying: “She’s broken a legal NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Her behaviour is outrageous.”
Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, the investigation said.
In a one message, Mr Hancock said Sir Chris had finished a review and recommended “testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result”.
Mr Hancock described it as “obviously a good positive step”.
However, the investigation said he later responded to an aide: “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out 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.”
The “lockdown files” investigation also contains claims that officials couriered Jacob Rees-Mogg a Covid test for one of his children while there was a shortage.
Mr Hancock also said to have told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!” as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage.
Ms Oakeshott, who has described lockdowns as an “unmitigated disaster”, said she was releasing the messages because it would take “many years” before the end of the official Covid inquiry, which she claimed could be a “colossal whitewash”.
“That’s why I’ve decided to release this sensational cache of private communications – because we absolutely cannot wait any longer for answers,” she said.
The spokesman for Mr Hancock said “instead of spinning and leaks we need the full, comprehensive inquiry”.
He added: “It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed. What the messages do show is a lot of people working hard to save lives.”
“The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available.
“The full documents have already all been made available to the inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment, so true lessons can be learned.”
In September 2020, during a severe backlog in testing, messages suggest an adviser to Mr Hancock helped get a test sent to senior Conservative Mr Rees-Mogg’s home.
The aide messaged Mr Hancock to say the lab had “lost” the original test for one of the then
Commons leader’s children, “so we’ve got a courier going to their family home tonight”.
He added: “Jacob’s spad (special adviser) is aware and has helped line it all up, but you might want to text Jacob.”
Commenting on the claim, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This is yet more evidence that it’s one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else. The Covid inquiry must look into reports Conservative ministers were able to get priority access to tests at a time of national shortage.”
As he battled to meet his own target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day, the investigation shows Mr Hancock texted his former boss Mr Osborne to “call in a favour”.
Mr Hancock said he has thousands of spare testing slots which is “obvs good news about spread of virus” but “hard for my target” as he asked for front page coverage.
Mr Osborne responded: “Yes – of course – all you need to do tomorrow is give some exclusive words to the Standard and I’ll tell the team to splash it.”
The then health secretary later added: “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”