Jason Leitch to step down as national clinical director

Mr Leitch had recently faced strong criticism over his use of WhatsApp during the Covid pandemic

Jason Leitch is to step down from his role as Scotland’s national clinical director at the end of next month.

Prof Leitch, who became a household name during the Covid pandemic, said he had “decided to look for new challenges” after taking a break. He had recently faced strong criticism over his use of WhatsApp during the pandemic.

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In evidence submitted to the UK Covid Inquiry, it emerged he told civil servants in one messaging group: “WhatsApp deletion is a pre-bed ritual."

Jason LeitchJason Leitch
Jason Leitch

Prof Leitch said this had been a “flippant exaggeration”, but confirmed he deleted messages in line with Scottish Government guidance, sparking outrage from campaigners.

Meanwhile, messages handed over to the inquiry by First Minister Humza Yousaf, who was then health secretary, included exchanges with Prof Leitch in which the official accused one MSP of "harrumphing like a child" and called another a "smart a*se".

Prof Leitch was also forced to deny advising Mr Yousaf about a "work-around" to Covid mask rules. He told the minister he could avoid wearing a mask at an event if he had a drink in his hand.

Both Labour and the Scottish Conservatives had previously called for Prof Leitch’s resignation, making his position as a top government official difficult.

In a statement, Prof Leitch said: “It has been an enormous privilege to carry out this role and work closely with colleagues across the health and care sector in service of the patients, their families and carers. The NHS and social care system does remarkable work every day, and I am immensely proud of the teams I have had the privilege of being part of.

“The ongoing success of the Scottish patient safety programme is globally recognised and has significantly improved the safety and reliability of care in many ways.

"The Covid pandemic was an unprecedented challenge for all countries and I am proud of my colleagues inside and outside government for their incredible work. It was a privilege to be able to communicate with the public so directly and be part of that co-ordinated response, and I will forever be grateful for the public’s attention and willingness to follow the guidance – it saved lives.

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"I have decided to look for new challenges across health and care after a break, and to spend more time with the charities I work with. I wish colleagues well for the future.”

Mr Yousaf said: “Jason Leitch has made a fantastic contribution to the health of the nation, leading work to reduce hospital acquired infections and improve the quality of care in the NHS. The enduring success of the Scottish patient safety programme is testament to his work.

"He played a huge role in helping me and fellow ministers navigate the Covid pandemic by providing advice to help reach the best decisions, and by communicating so well with the public. I, of course, wish him every success in the future.”

Writing on social media, former first minister Nicola Sturgeon wished Prof Leitch “all the very best”, adding: “His contribution to government will be missed.”

Prof Leitch often appeared alongside Ms Sturgeon during televised Covid briefings, and his communication skills were widely praised during the pandemic. He regularly appeared on BBC Radio Scotland's football show Off The Ball.

The Scottish Government said arrangements for Prof Leitch’s replacement would be set out in due course. He will also leave his post at NHS Tayside.

The Government said Prof Leitch does not receive another salary or pension on top of his NHS Tayside contract, and nor would he receive any additional remuneration upon leaving.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “Jason Leitch’s position became untenable when damning revelations about him were first revealed at the Covid inquiry. That exposed him less as an independent civil servant and more as a stooge for Sturgeon, [former deputy first minister John] Swinney and the SNP.

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“His flippant remarks on WhatsApp message deletion being a pre-bed ritual caused Covid bereaved families great upset. They should have been enough for Humza Yousaf to sack him. But, with the First Minister too weak to act, Jason Leitch has belatedly done the right thing by resigning.

“The SNP must guarantee that the next person in this crucial public-facing role fully restores confidence among the public.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “I thank Jason Leitch for his service as national clinical director during some deeply difficult times and I look forward to welcoming the new national clinical director to the role in due course.

“Questions still persist over Jason Leitch’s actions during the Covid-19 pandemic and regarding the ongoing fallout from the Eljamel scandal in NHS Tayside. Every effort must be made to ensure that the Scottish public get the answers that they deserve.”

Prof Leitch has worked for the Scottish Government since 2007 and was appointed national clinical director in January 2015. He was previously an oral surgery consultant in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

He is an honorary professor at the University of Dundee and a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde. He was awarded a CBE in the 2019 birthday honours.

Prof Leitch is a board member of two large international charities – the Nazareth Trust, which runs a hospital and nursing school in northern Israel, and the Indian Rural Evangelical Fellowship, which runs an orphanage, college and nursing school in rural south-east India.



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