National Records of Scotland, which is responsible for the official recording of deaths in Scotland, breached Freedom of Information legislation by refusing to release the number of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 related deaths in each of Scotland’s care homes, the Scottish Information Commissioner has ruled.
While care home death figures have been published, the NRS refused to break these down by care home, citing “speculative” arguments about this release impacting care workers and the commercial interests of care home operators, the commissioner said.
The Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar branded the NRS decision “utterly shameful”.
“This is another devastating blow for the care home residents and families who have been denied justice,” he said.
“Those responsible must be held accountable and lessons must be learned.
“We need a Scottish public inquiry without delay.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Social Care Minister Craig Hoy said: “This latest revelation will appal the thousands of families grieving the loss of a loved one who died in Scotland’s care homes.”
He added: “It is truly shocking that an SNP Government agency believed it was appropriate to try and stop the full picture surrounding care home deaths being made public.
“The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for an immediate public inquiry on care homes. This unlawful cover-up only makes the case for that urgent inquiry stronger.”
Professor Peter Watson of PBW Law, who is acting for many of the bereaved families in pursuit of compensation, said the refusal to release the information would add to the distress of those who died in care homes.
“I would urge the Scottish Government and the new Cabinet Secretary for Health to open a dialogue with the families affected and offer compensation without the need for litigation,” he said.
“This is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to lead within the UK and to distinguish the approach taken to bereaved relatives from that demonstrated elsewhere in the United Kingdom.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she expects the NRS to comply with the commissioner’s ruling.
“National Records of Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government, which means that it operates in these kinds of decisions independently of ministers, they have to make assessments of Freedom of Information requests and respond appropriately,” she told a Covid-19 briefing on Friday.
"They also have to respond to decisions of the Freedom of Information Commissioner and I would expect that National Records of Scotland will do that.”
She added that the Scottish Government aims to “learn every possible lesson” from the pandemic.
“That’s why I want to see a public inquiry get up and running as quickly as possible, but it's also why we will continue to learn the lessons as we go from the data, and that includes in care homes,” she said.
“Many of those lessons that have been painfully learned over the past year have led to a material change in the situation in care homes in the second wave of this virus, so that transparency and scrutiny is really important for all sorts of different reasons.”