Stalled report on care home deaths must be published for the sake of public confidence

That the release of elderly people from hospitals into care homes went terribly, tragically wrong in the earliest days of the Covid pandemic is not disputed, not even now by the Scottish Government.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier admitted that too many people died in care homes during the early part of the pandemic. Now it has emerged that Public Health Scotland requested that a report into the scandal was delayed until after the election. It has never been published. PIC: Jane Barlow.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier admitted that too many people died in care homes during the early part of the pandemic. Now it has emerged that Public Health Scotland requested that a report into the scandal was delayed until after the election. It has never been published. PIC: Jane Barlow.

In early April, outgoing Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told the BBC: "We didn't take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital and going into care homes were as safe as they could be, and that was a mistake."

In another BBC interview later that month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon agreed with her colleague's analysis, and confirmed for clarity in a later Tweet: "What I said is that with the benefit of knowledge we have now (but did not have then), it was a mistake. But too many people in care homes died and we must be candid about that. I hope the other UK govts will join me in committing to a full public inquiry starting later this year."

We agree that there is a need for candour about those care home deaths. We also agree with the First Minister's call for a full public inquiry, even if those hopes remain frustrated.

But all the regret, candour and calls for full, public inquiry fail to explain - indeed, make even starker - our revelation today: that Public Health Scotland sought to delay a report on deaths from Covid in care homes until after the Scottish election. That report has never been published.

Why delay? Especially when both the outgoing Health Secretary, and the First Minister, would within days of the proposed publication date admit that things had gone so badly wrong?

We don't know what the report says. But, we could speculate, its content might have made the election-time conversation much sharper-edged. Doubtless heartfelt, but non-specific, expressions of regret and in-hindsight admissions of error might not have been enough.

For now, we can only conclude that official data and analysis, free of political interference, is vital in any democracy - especially one needing to learn from a public health emergency unparalleled in modern times.

Moreover, facts about those deaths are the very least the relatives of the thousands of people who died in those homes deserve.

So the PHS should publish its report, as soon as is practical, and - that done - set about reforming its relationship with its political masters, so we all may have confidence for its future worth.

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