Matt Hancock has been furious with the NHS England chief executive during the pandemic, even saying that ousting him would be a “massive improvement”, according to the latest leaked WhatsApp messages.
The Telegraph reports that the private messages appear to show that Simon Stevens, now Lord Stevens, was disparaged behind the scenes and that Mr Hancock, then Health Secretary, and Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s then chief adviser, wanted to get rid of him at least 18 months ago his retirement in July 2021.
Some six months into the pandemic, Mr Hancock wrote that “the removal of SS (Simon Stevens) will be a massive improvement,” the paper said.
It also said Mr Hancock sent a message to Mr Cummings that he was reaching out to leading surgery professor Lord Ara Darzi to “persuade” Lord Stevens to quit.
Another contact was made by Mr Cummings on February 3, days after the first two Covid cases were discovered in the UK.
A meeting at Downing Street in April 2020 prompted Mr Hancock’s special adviser, Allan Nixon, to comment on how bad things were looking.
He wrote on WhatsApp: “You look like you’re about to lose your footing in front of #10 taking it on Simon like that.
“Simon needs a kick, but don’t make yourself look bad doing it.”
Mr Hancock replied: “It’s fine – he needs to know he’s massively fucked up.
“And I’ll tell the room what happened once the video is out.”
Mr Nixon replied: “OK, but be aware that from a distance it looks like you’re about to collapse 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.
According to the newspaper, there is news between Mr Hancock and Lord Stevens arguing over whether the NHS boss should have made an announcement about the reopening of dental practices as it could have been included in a televised press conference.
In the leaked news, Mr Hancock describes Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), as “worse than useless” and asked his permanent secretary, “Can we fire him?”
Sir Jeremy is also described as “totally offside” and “a complete loudmouth,” the newspaper reports.
When Sir Jeremy left Sage, he stressed that he was stepping down to focus on his work at the Wellcome Trust, a health research foundation.
In December, the World Health Organization appointed him its new chief scientist.