By any standard, the error admitted to by the SNP Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, in a valedictory interview is colossal. It involves decisions which remain close to incomprehensible and thousands of associated deaths.
Ms Freeman deserves credit even now for acknowledging the scale of misjudgment involved in the wholesale transfer of elderly hospital patients into care homes without being tested for Covid-19.
Between March and May last year, 3,061 patients were moved from hospitals to care homes without being tested prior to discharge. Even more astonishingly, 150 who had tested positive for Covid-19 were transferred.
What did anyone involved in these decisions expect, other than the carnage that followed? Had they not watched scenes in Spain and Italy which demonstrated the particular vulnerability of care homes?
There is a secondary story which Ms Freeman and her predecessor, Ms Sturgeon, should in due course be called to answer for. For years previously, our NHS had squandered vast amounts on bed-blocking which also kept needful patients out of hospitals.
In one fell swoop when panic struck, this supposedly intractable problem became capable of resolution. More than 3,000 hospital beds were emptied to make way for potential Covid-19 patients. Except it was no longer that straightforward.
Ms Freeman explained: “I think our failures were not understanding the social care sector well enough. So we didn't respond quickly enough to what was needed in our care homes, but also in social care in the community”.
Again, fair play for frankness but, again, it is a remarkably serious admission. Was there nobody in the entire Scottish government structure who had noted the warnings, which were certainly available, about the fragility of care homes’ ability to cope?
Or was it the case that, as with so much else, dissenting voices were unwelcome so that silence became assent for a policy which proved disastrous?
Whatever credit may be due to Ms Freeman, it is not transferable to Ms Sturgeon whose acknowledgment of mistakes has been couched in such general terms as to be meaningless, and indeed self-serving; the superficial appearance of humility while refusing to acknowledge specifics of failure.
Instead, Ms Sturgeon continues to exploit her supposed success as an electoral tool. No fewer than nine times during the first leaders’ debate, she referenced her pandemic “leadership” as grounds for re-election. No mention of the worst care home deaths record in Europe or a mortality tally now past the 10,000 mark.
Her spooky party political broadcast maintained the theme. “Day after day, after day…”, the voice intoned as Ms Sturgeon’s image beamed from 50 television sets, a paean of praise to her own indefatigability. Early in the pandemic, she realised the value of ubiquity. The statistics offer not a shred of evidence that it was beneficial but it was certainly useful.
I can identify the day when Ms Sturgeon’s persona should have been called out. On May 7, the Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who pursued this scandal with admirable tenacity now exonerated, asked the First Minister: “Why on Earth are we continuing to discharge patients from hospitals to care homes without establishing whether they are positive for Covid-19?”
Referencing the fact his own mother was in a care home, he pleaded: “Please stop that practice now to save lives of residents and the great people who look after them.” As I wrote then, there was “nothing unreasonable in tone or content” about his question.
Ms Sturgeon chose to interpret it as a personal slight, rebuking Mr Findlay for asking questions “in a way that suggests that we are not all trying to do everything that we possibly can in order to do the right thing.” Mr Findlay had committed no such offence but was inundated with online abuse for supposedly suggesting she wasn’t “trying”.
If Ms Sturgeon had spent more time listening and less positioning for what lay ahead, the grounds for Ms Freeman’s incredibly serious admission of fateful errors could have been addressed very much earlier.