'Belated transparency victory' as Scottish Government agency to publish Covid-19 deaths by hospital figures

An arm of the Scottish Government has u-turned on its decision to block the release of Covid-19 deaths broken down by individual hospital despite claiming their publication was ‘not in the public interest’.

The National Records of Scotland will publish the number of deaths in individual hospitals.
The National Records of Scotland will publish the number of deaths in individual hospitals.

The National Records of Scotland has said it hopes publish the statistics as early as Wednesday, May 26, following a transparency battle with The Scotsman.

Publication of the figures will add another layer of data on the impact of Covid-19 on different parts of the NHS across Scotland and was been described as a “belated victory for transparency” by opposition politicians.

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Officials at the NRS initially claimed the disclosure of the figures, requested using freedom of information legislation, was not in the public interest.

It had argued publishing them would “endanger the physical or mental health or safety of family members of the deceased, as well as hospital staff”.

However, the Scottish Information Commissioner last week ruled the NRS had unlawfully breached freedom of information laws by refusing to publish the number of deaths broken down by individual care home.

This decision led the NRS to u-turn on its refusal to publish a breakdown of hospital Covid-19 deaths and announce the planned publication date.

It had previously claimed: “While hospital data are in the public domain on other issues, we are handling COVID-19 mortality in a more cautious manner because we believe there is a significant probability that publishing COVID-19 mortality at hospital level may result in distress and mental anguish for families of the deceased, and have a significant impact on the physical and/or mental health and safety of the hospital staff working in them, as well as current patients.”

Reacting, Scottish Conservative shadow social care minister Craig Hoy said the NRS’ refusal to publish “crucial” information was “not a good look”.

The MSP for South Scotland said: “This is a belated victory for transparency on the true picture of Covid deaths in our hospitals. We saw last week the disturbing revelation that an SNP Government agency tried to cover up the scale of the tragedy in our care homes and it appears as though the same tactics are at play again here.

“The pandemic has affected every single one of us and the public have a right to know this vital information. The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in Scotland, yet the SNP have failed to take this forward.

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“Refusing to initially publish critical information like this is not a good look for the National Records of Scotland. There must be a renewed effort from SNP Ministers to ensure officials are as open as possible when it comes to vital information on Covid deaths.”

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said the u-turn was a “significant and welcome decision”.

The Dumbarton MSP added: “But the fact that this information has been withheld so far is completely unacceptable.

"It's all too clear that the SNP has tried to keep the unpleasant facts of their disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic from the public.

"We need full transparency now from the SNP and a cast-iron commitment to a Scotland-specific Covid inquiry."

The breakdown of Covid-19 deaths by individual care homes is also expected to be published on Wednesday.

A National Records of Scotland (NRS) spokesperson said: "NRS has published a range of information on COVID-related mortality to date, including where location of death is a hospital.

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“In light of the SIC’s decision on Care Home data, NRS will also make available data on individual hospitals in response to an freedom of information request.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The number of people who have sadly lost their lives to Covid in hospitals has always been reported and is already available by NHS Board area. We always keep under review whether more data can be published.

“National Records of Scotland makes decisions independently of Ministers.”

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