Here’s What Matt Hancock Did Wrong During Covid – As He Gives Evidence At The Covid Inquiry

Ahead of his Celebrity SAS stint, we take a look back at the last time Matt Hancock hit headlines

Matt Hancock

by Marianna Manson |
Updated on

Today, Matt Hancock will give evidence at the covid inquiry to defend his record as health secretary during the pandemic. This follows repeated criticism made against Matt by a number of other witnesses - including Dominic Cummings, who accused him of having 'lied his way through' the pandemic. The inquiry also heard the country's most senior civil servant at the time, Lord Sedwill, wanted Matt sacked to 'save lives and protect the NHS.'

Naturally, lots of people are starting to wonder what Matt Hancock did wrong, so we're here to answer all your questions....

Back in February 2023, Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock - already a contentious figure due to his actions during the 2020 and 2021 UK Covid-19 lockdowns - received a fresh wave of backlash after a series of WhatsApp messages leaked which seemed to suggest that he had rejected expert advice professor Professor Chris Whitty to ensure all people going into care homes in England were tested at the start of the pandemic. In leaked messages to The Daily Telegraph, Matt Hancock apparently told advisors that such advice 'muddied the waters'.

Hancock - who resigned from his post in June 2021 after it emerged he had broken his own lockdown rules, and later completely stepped down as an MP in December 2022 - however denied the claims, saying the messages were 'doctored'.

27 May 2021: Britain's Health Secretary, Matt Hancock gives an update on the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room

In 2020, government guidance mandated that those going into care homes straight from hospital should take covid tests, but did not include people entering care homes from the community. The WhatsApp messages allegedly show Hancock expressing concern that by expanding testing in care home, it could 'get in the way' of his self-imposed target of 100,000 Covid tests per day.

'Fine. 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. Have that for a Q&A response,' one text reads.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock said at the time, 'These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong.'

The WhatsApp scandal caused a resurgance of interest in how Matt Hancock handled the pandemic. It's certainly chilling to consider how, while the public were locked in their homes, life or death decisions were being made over casual WhatsApp chats. Now, especially with the former politician's upcoming stint on Celebrity SAS, people want to know more, with Google Trends data showing people searching for questions like 'What did Matt Hancock do wrong during Covid?' and 'Why do people dislike Matt Hancock?'. Well, let's break it down.

Quite apart from the fact that Hancock chose to abandon his constituents to go on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! in the middle of the worst cost-of-living crisis since the post-war period when he was the serving MP for West Suffolk, his legacy of presiding over the government response to Covid during his time as health secretary is still fresh in most peoples’ minds.

And for those who lost family members or were forced to keep apart from them in their final days while the Tory cabinet hosted parties during successive lockdowns, the endless stories about alleged Tory misbehaviour behind the scenes is quite triggering.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Here's what Matt Hancock did wrong during Covid...

The care home scandal during the pandemic

Early on in the pandemic, care homes and retirement homes were treated as something of a dumping ground for those infected with Covid, at a time when little was known about the virus and panic was rife. As harrowingly documented in Channel 4’s drama Help, featuring Jodie Comer and Stephen Graham, care homes were the lowest priority in medical triages and saw devastating numbers of deaths throughout the pandemic.

Following his resignation as Boris Johnson’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dominic Cummings claimed in May 2021 that Hancock had lied to the Prime Minister about a promise to test patients discharged from hospital for covid before entering the care home system – leading to the deaths of 32,154 people in care homes in the first quarter of 2021.

The PPE shortage

It wasn’t just care homes to bare the devastating brunt of the poor decisions and indifference of the health minister. Cast your minds back to footage from inside hospitals from the height of the pandemic and you’ll remember distressing scenes of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff battling bravely through the crisis without personal protective equipment (PPE). Most were forced to isolate away from their family in order to toil in unimaginable working conditions, with untold pressures on their mental and physical wellbeing still being felt today. The Clap for Our Carers campaign may have been conceived in good will, but it far from made up for the lack of resources and funds funnelled into the NHS by the government.

A year after the start of the pandemic, Hancock made the shocking claim ‘There was never a national shortage [of PPE], thanks to my team’ and that there was ‘no evidence’ of healthcare workers dying due to lack of PPE on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

A nurse working on the frontline during the pandemic told trade magazine Nursing Notes, ‘If felt like we were in a third-world country, not in the UK. My colleagues were falling ill and even dying around us. There was nothing any of us could do.

‘Many of us resorted to buying our own PPE online at hiked up prices – just so our families didn’t have to plan our funerals.’

The 1% pay rise he gave nurses

After the ordeal faced by our NHS and transparent attempts by the Government to pretend they valued or commiserated with the sacrificed made, Matt Hancock’s true feelings toward our National Health Service couldn’t have been more obvious when he announced in March 2021 that nurses would be receiving a 1% per cent pay rise – equivalent to a pay cut with inflation.

He said, ‘These have been challenging times... one of the most challenging is the financial consequences of the pandemic.

‘Elsewhere in the public sector there’s a pay freeze in place and we’ve proposed what we thought is affordable to make sure that in the NHS people do get a pay rise. It is fair to take into account all of the considerations, the incredible hard work which means that they are not part of the overall public sector pay freeze, and also what’s affordable as a nation. We do have issues of affordability because of the consequences of the pandemic on public finances as laid out in the budget this week.’

The same policy makers saw staff access to free parking at hospitals removed just months later.

It was later reported by Nursing Notes that Hancock’s fee of £320,000 for appearing on I’m A Celeb was equivalent to the salaries of fifteen nurses.

The Test & Trace contracts he gave his mates

By mid 2020, much of the government’s Covid response was (at least purportedly) focused on containing and managing the virus, with the UK’s Test and Trace system promised by Matt Hancock to be ‘world beating’.

But within weeks of its' launch, major criticisms were being reported, with Kier Starmer claiming it was ‘on the verge of collapse’ and thousands of users reporting being unable to book tests (and that was way before the ‘pingdemic’ of 2021).

Amid reports that people were being sent hundreds of miles away from their homes for testing and labs reaching ‘critical pinch points’ – read, understaffed and overstretched – it was revealed that billions of pounds worth of test and trace contracts had been awarded to Tory affiliated links. Among them was millionaire businessman Lord Ashcroft, who had donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Tory candidate Shaun Bailey’s mayoral campaign, and a former neighbour of Matt Hancock, pub landlord Alex Bourne, who offered his services ‘via a Whatsapp message’ despite having no prior experience in medical fields.

As a result, the UK’s test and trace system was widely considered to be a spectacular failure, and in July 2020 the British Medical Journal reported that over 100 public figures had written an open letter to Hancock demanding disclosure of exactly where the £10bn of Taxpayer’s money allocated for test and trace had gone, with, at the time, £9bn unaccounted for.

One signatory tweeted, ‘Would be good to understand exactly what money was spent on, especially on test and trace where expertise in NHS and local authorities has been overlooked as private sector used.’

Breaking lockdown rules

Matt Hancock had to bat off criticisms of breaking his own lockdown rules a number of times during his time as Health Secretary, issuing a blasé apology when he was seen patting a colleague affectionately on the back in the House of Commons early on in the pandemic and denying claims he’d broken the 10pm drinking curfew after reportedly spending the night boozing at bar in the Commons in October 2020.

But when footage was published of him getting handsy with his top aid Gina Coladangelo in his office – not only flagrantly disrespecting the hardships faced by the rest of the country during successive lockdowns but destroying two marriages in the process – even he couldn’t laugh (or fake cry) it off.

After all of his glaring misdemeanours during the pandemic, more than probably leading to the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of people, it was his extramarital affair that proved too much for his fellow MPs to forgive and he was subsequently forced resign from the role in June 2021.

He said, ‘The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis. I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance, and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this. I also need to be with my children at this time.’

So, while Hancock makes a tit of himself on TV yet again as he appears on Celebrity SAS, it’s worth keeping in mind the legacy that has lead to his divisive reputation.

Whilst hundreds of memes were made of him forcing out tears during an excruciating TV interview where he patted himself on the back for his Covid response, or of him standing awkwardly close to Tory Councillor Wendy Maisey [see below] while she unsubtly squirmed to get away from him, the actual impact of his time as Health Secretary is far more sinister.

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