Health secretary accused of breaching ministerial code over vaccine blunder

The health secretary has been accused of breaching the Scottish Government’s ministerial code after she named the location of vaccine storage in Holyrood on Wednesday.

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservative’s health spokesperson, said the error, which led to criticism from the UK Government, meant there was a “clear case” the code of conduct for ministers had been broke.

Jeane Freeman made the error during a question-and-answer session with MSPs in Holyrood on Wednesday.

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The Scottish Government was further embarrassed when their official vaccine delivery plan was taken down from their website due to concerns around the level of data published, potentially causing problems for the UK Government when negotiating with Covid-19 vaccine suppliers.

Jeane Freeman has been accused of breaching the ministerial code.Jeane Freeman has been accused of breaching the ministerial code.
Jeane Freeman has been accused of breaching the ministerial code.

The plan has since been reuploaded with the expected supply data removed and several other changes.

However, the health secretary’s error in Parliament earned her a rebuke from the UK Government leading to the accusation that she may have breached the ministerial code.

The Scottish Conservatives argue Ms Freeman has breached section 2.26 of the ministerial code, which states that ministers have a “personal responsibility” to safeguard confidential information.

The full paragraph states: “Ministers have a personal responsibility to safeguard the integrity and confidentiality of government business. Failure to maintain good security can cause damage to the interests and reputation of the government and may prejudice the effective conduct of official business.”

Mr Cameron said the error was equivalent to “serious lapses of judgement”.

The Scottish Conservative MSP said: “There is a clear case that the ministerial code may have been broken by the failure to properly respect the confidentiality of sensitive information.

“The SNP Government itself has admitted they got this wrong. They asked journalists not to report a secret location, the Covid plan was removed within hours and the First Minister acknowledged the flaws in publishing restricted supply figures.

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“These multiple blunders in the space of 24 hours have risked shaking public confidence in the government’s handling of the Covid vaccine.

“These are not mere day-to-day gaffes, they are serious lapses of judgement. Repeated mistakes like this cannot be overlooked when so much is at stake.

“We need substantive information to be published, but it has to meet the basic standard of not breaching the government’s own security protocols. At the moment, government officials have clearly stated that these supply figures are too sensitive to be in the public domain.”

If it is deemed the health secretary has breached the ministerial code, it would be up to Nicola Sturgeon to decide on the appropriate sanction – if any – unless the matter was referred to the independent advisers on the code.

The code states: “The First Minister is, however, the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a minister and of the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards. Although the First Minister will not expect to comment on every matter which could conceivably be brought to his or her attention, ministers can only remain in office for so long as they retain the First Minister’s confidence.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

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