Coronavirus in Scotland: Scottish Labour demand clarity on health and care workers deaths

Nicola Sturgeon has been asked to come clean on the number of deaths from coronavirus among Scotland’s NHS staff and care home workers and if they are being investigated by a new specialist team.

Nicola Sturgeon was questioned about healthcare staff Covid deaths during First Minister's Questions.
Nicola Sturgeon was questioned about healthcare staff Covid deaths during First Minister's Questions.

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, has written to the First Minister demanding clarity on whether all healthcare staff who died as a result of contracting Covid-19 through their work are being investigated by the Crown Office’s new Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT).

The issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday by Anas Sarwar, who claimed 49 workers had lost their lives to Covid, but the CDIT was only looking at 27 deaths.

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Now Ms Baillie has written asking for assurances all workers who died as a result of their jobs will have their deaths investigated.

“The families of those frontline workers who gave their lives deserve answers and it is the role of the independent Crown Office to investigate on their behalf,” she said. “It would be hard to see the decision not to refer these cases as anything other than a political one.”

According to a letter Ms Baillie received from out-going Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo, the Lord Advocate had confirmed “all and presumed deaths” from Covid “involving any person who might have contracted the virus in the course of their employment or occupation or who was resident in a care home when the virus was contracted, must be reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)."

Ms Di Rollo added: “It is a fundamental feature of the system for the investigation of deaths in Scotland that the Crown should conduct an independent, professional investigation into unexpected, sudden, and suspicious deaths.”

In her letter to the First Minister, Ms Baillie writes: “Yesterday in Parliament you were asked whether all Covid-19 deaths of health and care workers would be referred for investigation to the Crown Office. Your reply suggested that this may lead to accusations that the Government may be trying to politicise prosecutions.

“The Scottish Government’s Covid-19 data confirms that, in total, 21 healthcare staff and 28 social care workers have lost their lives to Covid-19 in Scotland. Yet, the most recent figures from the CDIT for May 2021 suggest that only 27 deaths of workers have been referred to them and there is no guarantee that these will be exclusively health and care workers.

“Can you confirm how many deaths of NHS staff and social care workers have been reported to the Crown Office’s CDIT and when will this happen for all such deaths not yet reported?

“The families of those frontline workers who gave their lives deserve answers and it is the role of the independent Crown Office to investigate on their behalf. It would be hard to see the decision not to refer these cases as anything other than a political one.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the First Minister made clear, the Lord Advocate is solely responsible for the system of investigation of deaths, including determining where an investigation is required, and the extent of it.“We are indebted to all of our NHS and care workers who have been the backbone of our response to the pandemic, and every death will be mourned.“Health Boards are asked to notify the Scottish Government as soon as practicably possible when they are made aware that any staff member has died as a result of contracting Covid-19 in the course of their duties.”

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