The health secretary’s appointment of a close personal friend as an aide would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous” process, a minister has claimed.

Questions about Matt Hancock’s appointment of former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo surfaced after pictures in The Sun newspaper appeared to show the health secretary, who is married, kissing the aide in his office.

The Sunday Times reported last year that Mr Hancock had failed to declare he had appointed Ms Coladangelo as an aide and later gave her a role on the board of the Department of Health. She is listed on the department’s website as a non-executive director.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he would not comment on something that is an “entirely personal” matter.

But he added: “In terms of rules, anyone who’s been appointed has to go through an incredibly rigorous process in government. Whatever the rules are, the rules will have to be followed.”

Pressed again on whether the rules had been followed with regards to the appointment, Mr Shapps replied: “I think it’s a bit of a red herring in this case. I think it’s really a personal story, so I don’t intend to comment on somebody’s personal life.”

He added that the health secretary “has been working very hard rolling out this vaccine programme”.

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Ms Coladangelo’s LinkedIn profile says she has been working at the department since September 2020 and was at Oxford University at the same time as the health secretary.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “This appointment was made in the usual way and followed correct procedure.”

The photo has also raised questions about whether Mr Hancock broke the government’s lockdown laws.

At the time the picture was reportedly taken on 6 May, hugging anyone outside your household or bubble was not allowed.