The Scottish Conservatives Holyrood leader challenged the First Minister to release correspondence between the Scottish Government, health boards and care homes detailing the discharge of hospital patients in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, saying affected families needed answers on the issue.
Nearly 2,000 people have died in Scottish care homes since coronavirus hit the country and earlier this month it emerged at least 37 potentially infectious people in Ayrshire hospitals who had tested positive were still sent to residential homes, as the NHS cleared hospital beds in preparation for an expected influx of Covid patients.
It was also revealed at the weekend that health secretary Jeane Freeman had congratulated NHS boards on “tremendous progress” in moving patients into care homes in early April.
However Ms Freeman has rejected accusations the Scottish Government pressured hospitals to discharge infected patients.
Yesterday at a bad-tempered First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon was asked when she knew that Covid-positive patients were being transferred into care homes. “Was she first told in March, April, May, June, July or August?” Ms Davidson demanded.
She added: “We have spoken to a number of families who have been affected by this and they want to know how, when and how many Covid patients were put into the care homes in which their loved one died. Nearly 2,000 people have died in Scottish care homes thought this crisis.”
Ms Davidson also said it was not “credible” that the government was setting policy, but “knew nothing about how this policy was being achieved, and wasn’t aware of the decision to move Covid-positive patients into care homes.”
However Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government’s objective to reduce the numbers of people in delayed discharge circumstances in hospitals had been “clear” but that ministers were “not party to the clinical risk assessments that are done for individual patients.”
She said the government was waiting for analysis from Public Health Scotland “on the numbers of people who were discharged to care homes from hospital who may have had the virus and whether or not they had been tested and what the circumstances were, and we will make that fully available.”
She added: I nor any other minister would expect to know the individual details of the clinical risk assessment undertaken of any particular patient.“It is the responsibility of government to set the guidance. We issued that on 13 March to care homes, and it was updated as appropriate and we openly and transparently set an objective about delayed discharge.
“It’s interesting to me that politicians are trying to suggest they didn’t know that was the case. The policy was clear and we will continue to provide as much detail on how that was implemented as we can.
“If Ruth Davidson only learned about this policy in the last few weeks that raises more questions about Ruth Davidson’s attention to this situation than anything else. For years opposition politicians have rightly pressed the government to reduce delayed discharge but if they didn’t know we were trying to do that to free up capacity for what was about to happen to our hospitals then I just have to wonder where were they and what were they paying attention to because it wasn’t what was going on with Covid.”
However Ms Davidson hit back, saying affected families needed to know “how many Covid patients were put into the care homes in which their loved ones died”.
She added: “The First Minister is clearly irked by this line of questioning but we’ve spoken to a number of families who have been affected by this. We’ve urged that the Scottish inquiry into care homes start immediately because it’s not right, or fair, on families to have information emerge bit by bit, piece by piece – they need answers now.
“Will she commit to publish all correspondence between herself, the health secretary, NHS boards and care homes throughout this pandemic to give families the clarity they deserve?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m happy to make any relevant information available but I’m going further than that. I agree that families should have answers to their questions, that why I’ve asked Public Health Scotland to look specifically at these questions, to look at if people were tested, and if they weren’t why not, and if they had Covid, and that exercise we have asked to be completed by the end of September and we will publish that.”
Ms Sturgeon also revealed the latest National Records of Scotland Covid figures, which included six deaths due, or suspected to be due, to the virus over the week to 23 August, four of them in care homes.