• Health secretary accused of setting a bad example by not practising social distancing 
  • Senior NHS leader said 10-20 staff were in Matt Hancock’s office during calls
  • One source told HSJ: “It looks like the health secretary and his colleagues think ‘social distancing’ is for other people” 
  • Hancock says he observes social distancing at work

Senior NHS leaders have expressed alarm that Matt Hancock is providing a bad example by holding regular video calls in his office surrounded by many colleagues.

One of the the sector’s most senior figures – speaking to HSJ on condition of anonomity – said the health and social care secretary was holding a number of video conference meetings each day with service leaders alongside between 10 and 20 colleagues.

Regular attendees have included Department of Health and Social Care permanent secretary Chris Wormald, director general for finance and group operations David Williams and the department’s other director generals, and Mr Hancock’s advisers and administrative support, as well as some figures from DHSC arms-length bodies.

HSJ is not aware if people were asked to attend or if they attended on their own volition. The DHSC did not comment on this specifically when asked.

One very senior NHS source who witnessed the meetings said: ”It looks like the health secretary and his colleagues think ‘social distancing’ is for other people and that coming into the office is necessary for senior leaders. It is encouraging presenteeism and making it very hard to send the right messages about the importance of following national guidance on staying home and staying safe.”

The source added that before one meeting got under way, the packed room could be heard criticising the, now sacked, Scottish chief medical officer for visiting her holiday home. “I thought, do they realise how hypocritical they sound?” the person added.

The government has been regularly criticised during the daily press briefings for early failures to take social distancing and other measures seriously, after many senior figures, including the prime minister and the health and social care secretary contracted the virus.

Asked about it by HSJ at the government’s daily press conference today, Mr Hancock said he worked from home when he could and that he observed social distancing rules at work, with chairs in his office set two metres apart.

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We continue to do everything we can to keep this country safe, including by following all guidance and practising social distancing.”

Updated 8.15pm on 10 April with Mr Hancock’s response at the daily press conference.