- THE TELEGRAPH - The Lockdown Files Team - March 10, 2023 -
Cabinet Secretary told the then PM of the need to be ‘brutally honest with people’ about shutdown’s effect on ‘non-Covid health’
The Cabinet Secretary warned Boris Johnson that lockdown is “terrible for other outcomes” – days before the then prime minister shut down the UK. WhatsApp messages obtained by The Telegraph show how Simon Case, the country’s most senior civil servant, insisted “we have to be brutally honest with people” over the consequences of lockdown – including the effects on “non-Covid health”, mental health, education and jobs.
The Lockdown Files – a cache of more than 100,000 messages circulated among senior politicians and officials – also show how ministers were worried that non-Covid excess deaths would be fuelled by the public not being checked for “minor ailments” that could “turn into acute” problems later on.
The Files also disclose a “rapid review” undertaken into an alarming rise in the “sad deaths of children” in mental health inpatient units across England, as well as fears over an “upcoming epidemic” in children’s respiratory viruses caused by lockdown suppressing infection.
The serious concerns, expressed in the WhatsApp messages, show alarm among senior ministers at the collateral damage caused by locking down the UK to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Boris Johnson announced the second national lockdown in England to save lives and protect the NHS – but The Telegraph’s Lockdown Files suggest the Government was well aware of the knock-on effect on the future death toll and the strain on hospitals when decisions were made.
In a message sent on Oct 29 2020 - two days before Mr Johnson announced the lockdown - Mr Case said: “I think we have to be brutally honest with people. Full lockdowns optimise our society/economy for tackling the Covid R rate - but they are terrible for other outcomes (non-Covid health, jobs, education, social cohesion, mental health etc).”
The national lockdown was put into force on Nov 5 and lasted a month, before England introduced a tough new tier system and then a third lockdown after Christmas.
All restrictions were only finally lifted in July 2021, after the mass vaccination programme was well under way.
Mr Case’s message was circulated in a WhatsApp group that included Matt Hancock, the then health secretary; Prof Sir Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer; Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser; and Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser.
Six months later, in May 2021, the NHS instigated an official “rapid review” into rising deaths in children’s mental health units, specifically treating young people with “severe and/or complex mental disorders”.
The Lockdown Files reveal how a senior official sent a message to Mr Hancock updating him on the rapid review “into the sad deaths of children in Tier 4 Mental Health units”. Children being treated in Tier 4 mental health units have the most severe mental health problems.
In the message, the official said: “The number of deaths in 2021/22 is already at 4, where the annual total figure for 2020/21 was 6.” With the financial year beginning in April, the message implies that there were four deaths in less than two months following the pandemic.
In a further WhatsApp sent three days later, on May 17 2021, Nadine Dorries, the minister for mental health and suicide prevention, told Mr Hancock: “We’ve had far more CYPs [children and young persons] in T4 than before pandemic.”
She said “pressure on paediatric beds has been huge” because of referrals made by mental health practitioners.
On the same day, a health official sent Mr Hancock a submission on Public Health England “modelling relating to a upcoming epidemic in child respiratory syncytical virus (RSV) given winter suppression of infection due to COVID NPIs [Non pharmaceutical interventions]”. The message sent at just after 10pm was described as “urgent this evening”.
NHS England said on Friday that it had no record of the rapid review that took place and The Telegraph could find no evidence of any official report having been published.
In September 2020 – after the first lockdown and three months prior to the second lockdown – Lord Bethell, then a health minister and also a close friend of Mr Hancock, expressed concern that a public health campaign was not going to run.
“Are you sure about killing the ads urging people to check minor symptoms?”
Lord Bethell asked the health secretary: “It will lead to long term capacity pressures as minor ailments turn into acute and more expensive problems.”
Lord Bethell suggested that “our net ‘excess deaths’ numbers might nudge upwards even” if the NHS has increased capacity as winter approached. It is unclear if the health campaign went ahead or not. The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.
Mr Johnson pressed ahead with the second lockdown that began on Nov 5 and lasted until the start of December.
In a national address, Mr Johnson said “no responsible PM” could ignore the rising Covid cases at the time and that he had tried to resist a national lockdown “because we know the cost of these restrictions, the damage they do, the impact on jobs, and on livelihoods, and on people’s mental health”.