Opposition parties called on Ms Freeman to “resign or be sacked” last week following accusations she “covered up” the death of ten-year-old Milly Main at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
Milly’s mother says she is “100 per cent” sure it was due to contaminated water, which led to two wards on the hospital campus being closed more than 12 months later.
The health secretary admitted on Friday that she knew about Milly’s death after her mother, Kimberly Darroch, contacted her two days after she announced plans to hold a public inquiry into the hospital and the delayed Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, which was supposed to open in Edinburgh over the summer. But she insisted that the issue was not a public matter.
The First Minister has now come out in support of her health secretary.
She said: “Firstly, my thoughts and condolences are with the family of the little girl, but the Scottish Government all along has been determined that any questions, any issues, that are required to be addressed will be fully and openly addressed.
“That’s why the health secretary – who does have my support – has ordered a public inquiry.”
It comes after the health secretary appeared in front of the health and sport committee yesterday, where she said she hoped a lead person for the public inquiry would be announced by Christmas.
During an election campaign visit to Stirling yesterday, Ms Sturgeon added: “She was before the health committee in the Scottish Parliament this morning setting out our hope and expectation that the chair of that public inquiry will be appointed before the Christmas recess so that it can get on with its work to make sure there is confidence in children’s hospitals and the children’s services they provide.”
At the committee, Ms Freeman said: “In terms of the inquiry, we are in the process of finalising who will lead that, with the support of the Lord Advocate and the Lord President. I hope to be able to announce who will lead the inquiry before we get to the Christmas recess.”
Ms Freeman is also due to make a statement to the Scottish Parliament about the Glasgow hospital today.
Labour MSP Anas Sarwar, who was contacted by a whistle-blower from the hospital last week, said he hoped Milly’s family would learn the truth from the statement.
In a letter to Ms Freeman ahead of her speech, Mr Sarwar called for families to be told the truth, as well as for protection for the whistle-blower, and direct government intervention in the health board to investigate the issues.
He wrote: “My overriding objectives are for Milly’s family to be told the truth and to get the answers they deserve, for the parents of the 25 other cases to be informed of what happened, for a guarantee that the whistleblowers’ jobs will be protected and for the intimidation, bullying and attempts to silence stop and for the necessary action to be taken against the health board. I also want the lessons of this to be learnt so that it minimises the risk of this ever happening again.”
Ms Freeman told Holyrood’s health committee yesetrday there is a “mixed picture” in NHS Scotland on the treatment of whistle-blowers.
I think there is significant room for improvement across our health service for basic complaints handling,”