FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon accused of 'negligence or incompetence' for not planning properly for pandemic

Nicola Sturgeon was accused of failing to take heed of warnings that Scotland was ill-prepared for a pandemic as she faced a fierce set of questions from opposition leaders during First Minister’s Questions.

The questions on Wednesday followed the publication of an independent report by the Auditor General, which found the Scottish Government’s failure to act on warnings around its pandemic planning in the past decade may have led to PPE shortages and stretched social care capacity and in turn hindered Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Both Ruth Davidson and Jackie Baillie pushed the First Minister on failures to act on recommendations issued following various pandemic preparedness exercises in the past decade, claiming that fewer lives could have been lost if the Scottish Government had acted earlier.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was challenged on the Audit Scotland report which criticised the Scottish Government's preparedness for a pandemic.

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Ms Davidson, the Holyrood leader of the Scottish Conservatives, accused Ms Sturgeon of failing to act timeously to update care home guidance and to act on warnings there was a lack of PPE, labelling the Scottish Government’s response to warnings evidence of mistakes made over a “decade of delay”.

She said: “Throughout this pandemic the First Minister has sought to build a reputation on how she’s handled this virus, but the truth is her government was less prepared that it should have been and it is set out in black and white in today’s Audit Scotland report.

“Her government was warned again, and again, and again, there were years where this First Minister could have acted. What stopped her?”

The First Minister said Scotland “never once” ran out of PPE despite professionals being forced to reuse it at the early stages of the pandemic.

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Ms Sturgeon said the main issue with the government’s pandemic preparedness was that it “perhaps hadn’t done enough to prepare for SARS type outbreaks”.

Interim leader of Scottish Labour, Jackie Baillie, said a pandemic “should have been anticipated”, accused the Scottish Government of being “slow to act” on recommendations and asked the First Minister whether it was “negligence of incompetence” that meant it failed to act.

Ms Baillie also called on Ms Sturgeon to “stop hiding behind” government workers and said the failure to act on flu pandemic planning recommendations was a “matter of leadership”.

She said the government “simply did not listen” and Scotland was “simply not prepared”.

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Ms Baillie said: “Had you paid attention to that as you say you did, we would not be in this position.”

Calling for enhanced PPE for health workers, Ms Baillie said: “What I am very clear about is that there was no leadership in preparing for this pandemic.

"The whole point of this is not to learn after the event, but actually to learn beforehand so we put in measures to prevent the scale of death that we witnessed.”

The First Minister responded by accusing Ms Baillie of “writing to the BBC” about her daily briefings rather than helping tackle the virus.

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She said the real criticism was that governments should have been more prepared for a SARS-like virus, rather than flu.

Ms Sturgeon added: “They will criticise whatever we do, but we will continue to get on with the job of keeping the people of this country as safe as we can.

“Let’s engage properly on these things rather than just chuck sound bites across a parliamentary chamber.”

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