What is harder to fathom is why the National Records of Scotland, an arm of the Scottish government, also sought to conceal this information.
The probable answer lies among the NRS's excuses as it refused to release the figures for nearly eight months – until the Scottish Information Commissioner ruled it was acting unlawfully.
Initially the NRS said there were “data protection sensitivities” – a claim rejected by the commissioner on the grounds that protected personal data “must relate to living individuals” – and then later claimed the information would “risk the health and safety of care home staff and residents” – an argument the commissioner dismissed as “purely speculative”.
What is far more likely to have been the real reason is the NRS’s view that the figures would have negative effect on the commercial interests of care home operators.
Industry body Scottish Care also opposed publication, complaining that the figures would not “tell the full story of the professionalism, sacrifice and dedication of frontline nursing and care staff who daily put themselves at risk and on the line to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens facing the threat of this deadly global virus”.
This is true. However, there has already been considerable publicity about the terrible position that frontline care staff found themselves in when the Covid outbreak began and the bravery, compassion and professionalism most displayed. There is nothing to stop Scottish Care, or anyone else, from continuing to provide that broader context when the figures for individual care homes are revealed.
Many businesses seem to have an innate desire to hide anything that looks like bad publicity, but civil servants must not collude, or appear to collude, in keeping such secrets. Transparency in government is extremely important in a democracy and doubly so when it concerns something as serious as the Covid pandemic.
If there have been particularly high numbers of deaths in some care homes but not others, the public, which includes academics and other researchers, has a right to know and seek an explanation.
A government agency's complicity in keeping this information from the public over a prolonged period is shocking and disgraceful, and must never happen again.