Matt Hancock has conspired to try to remove Sir Simon Stevens, a longtime thorn in the government’s side, from his role as head of the NHS in England, leaked messages from the former health secretary reveal.
Hancock conspired with Dominic Cummings, the chief adviser to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to remove Stevens before the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.
However, his determination to oust Stevens appears to have been bolstered by a series of successive clashes over how to fight the virus and the rollout of the first Covid vaccine in late 2020.
The latest batch of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages and text messages, revealed in the Sunday Telegraph, shows that he also sought to remove Sir Jeremy Farrar – who will become the World Health Organization’s chief scientist in April – as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies ( Sage). The scientist criticized the government’s handling of Covid.
On Stevens, Cummings texted Hancock on January 21, 2020 to ask, “Where are we from the SS?” The health secretary replied: “He’s on the train. I get first [NHS England board member and ex-Labour health minister] Ara Darzi to convince him that it is in his best interest to leave now. If that doesn’t work, I’ll transfer directly.
Two weeks later, Cummings suggested to Hancock, “We’ve got to get on this now. Announcement next week as part of the reshuffling madness and it’s all going to get messed up.”
The news does not reveal why the minister and adviser number 10 wanted to get rid of Stevens. But the head of the NHS – a former Labor councilor who advised Tony Blair on health in the early 2000s – has irked a succession of Conservative ministers since taking office in 2014.
The Covid lockdown has intensified existing tensions. The news also shows that Hancock’s special adviser Allan Nixon warned his boss that “you look like you’re losing your grip before Number 10” when he was visibly angry with Stevens at a Downing Street meeting.
The health secretary replied: “Okay – he needs to know he fucked up massively.”
Stevens also drew Hancock’s ire in May 2020 by failing to warn him of plans to announce that dental practices could reopen to patients a month later. Mr Johnson told Hancock that the NHS chief had “bowed” to him as ministers had hoped to announce it themselves.
The beginning of December 2020 brought another clash. Stevens was angered by media reports that “millions” of people will receive the Covid vaccine before Christmas. In a message to a WhatsApp group that included Hancock and senior officials, Stevens said: “There is no version of reality where ‘several million people will get the vaccine before Christmas,’ so whoever reported it may want to take an urgent course correction before Christmas.” this inevitably becomes clear.”
When Stevens announced in April 2021 that he was stepping down from his position after seven years and departing this summer, Hancock praised him for being “a steadfast and wise leader of our NHS, which was especially true during this most testing period in history.” NFZ”. He also praised Stevens’ “huge contribution” to running the NHS. Stevens became a life peer in the summer of 2021 and serves as a crossbencher.
Hancock called Farrar “worse than useless” and “a complete talker” after a series of disagreements over Covid government policy. Farrar was a world-renowned infectious disease expert and director of the well-known medical research charity Wellcome Trust, and a member of Sage. He condemned the government’s abolition of Public Health England (PHE) and the appointment of Tory peer Dido Harding as head of the widely criticized Test and Trace programme.
Farrar tweeted in August 2020 that the liquidation of PHE involved “arbitrary redundancies. Passage of guilt. Ill-conceived short-term, reactive reforms… Preempting the inevitable public inquiry.” This prompted Hancock and Lord Bethell, the health minister, to see if the scientist could be removed from Sage.
Hancock also told Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services: “We’ve got to do something about Farrar. Can we release him? This is completely unacceptable.”
Farrar recently left Wellcome to take up a new role at the WHO.
Hancock’s news also shows that he accused his fellow cabinet member Michael Gove of “playing on my job” when the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the Times the NHS would cut waiting times for treatment, even though Covid put extra pressure on it.
Hancock told Damon Poole, his special media adviser, that he was “not happy at all” with Gove, with whom he was otherwise very friendly, according to the news.