Hancock said removing NHS England chief executive would be ‘massive improvement’
Matt Hancock was irked by the chief executive of NHS England during the pandemic and even said that ousting him would be a “massive improvement”, according to the latest set of leaked WhatsApp messages.
The Telegraph reports that the private messages appear to show that Simon Stevens, now Lord Stevens, was belittled behind the scenes and that Mr Hancock, the then health secretary, and Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s then chief adviser, wanted to get rid of him for at least 18 months before he retired in July 2021.
Some six months into the pandemic, Mr Hancock wrote that “removing SS (Simon Stevens) will be a massive improvement”, according to the paper.
It also says Mr Hancock messaged Mr Cummings saying he was approaching the top surgery professor Lord Ara Darzi to “persuade” Lord Stevens to quit.
Further contact was made from Mr Cummings on February 3, days after the first two Covid cases were detected in the UK.
A Downing Street meeting in April 2020 prompted Mr Hancock’s special adviser Allan Nixon to comment on how it looked bad.
He wrote on WhatsApp: “You look like you’re losing grip in front of No 10 by having a go at Simon like that.
“Simon needs a kick but don’t make yourself look bad in the process.”
Mr Hancock replied: “It’s OK – he needs to know he is massively f****** up.
“And I’ll tell the room what happened once the video is off.”
Mr Nixon responded: “OK but be aware from afar it looks like you’re cracking under pressure.”
Lord Stevens, who spoke out on a range of issues including NHS funding, was made a life peer in recognition of his services to the NHS.
The paper says there are messages between Mr Hancock and Lord Stevens, in which they argue over whether the NHS boss should have made an announcement over the reopening of dental practices as it could have been included in a television press conference.
In the leaked messages Mr Hancock describes Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), as “worse than useless” and wonders to his permanent secretary: “Can we fire him?”
Sir Jeremy is also described as “totally offside” and a “complete loudmouth”, the paper reports.
When Sir Jeremy left Sage, he stressed he was stepping down to focus on his work at health research foundation the Wellcome Trust.
In December the World Health Organisation named him as its new chief scientist.