Covid Inquiry: 'People dying in care homes' were 'near the end regardless', Hancock adviser said

In a second day of evidence at the Covid-19 Inquiry, Matt Hancock was questioned on care homes and his rule-breaking affair with his aide. ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan reports

Matt Hancock was warned in April 2020 of the dangers of not testing for Covid-19 in care homes, but was told "people dying" in them were often "near the end regardless".

In WhatsApp messages seen by the Covid-19 Inquiry, the former health secretary's media adviser urged him to start testing for cases in care homes to avoid negative "front pages".

"Do we also need a push on testing people in care? Or at least have some sort of focused effort on testing people in care," said Jamie Njoku-Goodwin.

"I know it is complex and the people dying in care homes are often people who were near the end regardless, but I worry that if a load of people in care start dying, there will be front pages demanding why we weren’t testing people in care homes. Do we need to get ahead of this now?"

Mr Hancock responded: "Let's have rapid advice on this tying together all the angles."

On Friday, the former health secretary gave his second day of evidence before Baroness Hallett's forensic three-year probe into the government's handling of the pandemic.

On an early lack of testing in care homes, Mr Hancock said "we didn't have enough tests and the clinical prioritisation of who got tests in what order was absolutely something that I wouldn't have interfered with."

The now backbench MP also told the Covid Inquiry school closures could have been avoided if the government took more immediate action against the virus in September 2020.

He claimed he was calling for a second national lockdown two months before it was introduced, insisting there would have been "more deaths" had action not been taken.

Mr Hancock said that “on reflection and with hindsight”, he thought “if we’d have taken action sooner, in September of 2020, then we might, for instance, have avoided the need to close schools, which in the end we had to as cases were so high by January”.

'If we'd taken action sooner in September 2020' then we could 'have avoided the need to close schools', Matt Hancock tells the Covid-19 Inquiry

Mr Hancock also had to address his affair with his aide, Gina Coladangelo, admitting that "transgressions" in his personal life may have had an impact on public trust in the rules imposed by Ministers.

Lead counsel to the Inquiry, Hugo Keith KC, said: "I’m sure you acknowledge the incredible offence and upset that was caused by that revelation."

To which Mr Hancock replied: "It is important that those who make the rules abide by them, and I resigned in order to take accountability for my failure to do."

Mr Keith said his swift resignation "must have been a reflection of the fact that you understood the importance of, or the deleterious consequences of, rule-breaking or guidance-breaking on public confidence in the public at large".

Mr Hancock replied: “Yes.”

Matt Hancock admits his personal 'transgressions' may have affected public trust in the Covid rules imposed by the government

Mr Hancock stressed his "primary concern was saving lives" throughout his time at the Department of Health, often criticising others in central government for pushing back against his concerns.

In WhatsApp messages shown to the Inquiry between Mr Hancock and Britain's most senior civil servant, Simon Case, Boris Johnson was "not willing to go further" in terms of national restrictions in October 2020.

Mr Hancock replied: "When can I make the case for action – this won’t work and we will massively regret it."

Despite calling for tougher action against the virus and sometimes feeling "blocked" by those in Downing Street, Mr Hancock resigned in July 2021 after he was caught kissing his aide and breaching social distancing rules.

Rishi Sunak also came under fire on Friday, in further messages unveiled to the Inquiry.

On October 30, 2020, when Mr Hancock was pushing for rapid action to curb the spread of the virus, the former health secretary said to Mr Case: "Rishi is in the room - contrary to the stupid rules - so the PM will be under enormous pressure to not do enough once again."

It comes after Mr Hancock alleged he didn't hear about the former chancellor's 'Eat Out To Help Out Scheme' until it was due to be announced - a statement in line with a number of senior health figures who also said they weren't consulted about the scheme.

The now backbench MP, who appeared on ITV's 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!' last year, told the Inquiry of his "despair" that he knew the government's October 2020 tier system "would not work".

But a lighter moment came when, addressing the system, he referred to the former Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who is still alive, as a man "unfortunately no longer with us".

He praised Mr Anderson for his "spirit of collaboration" during discussions over the tiers.

Former First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was also dealt a blow by Mr Hancock, describing her communications to the public as "unhelpful and confusing".

The inquiry is currently taking evidence as part of its second module on core UK decision-making and political governance.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...