Scottish Government received comparisons of Covid-19 care home death rates between England and Scotland

Comparisons between Scotland and England’s death rates in care homes from Covid-19 were sent weekly to Nicola Sturgeon in the early stage of the pandemic, it can be revealed.

Nicola Sturgeon was given regular updates on how Scotland was performing compared to England on Covid-19 death data.

The reports directly compared the Covid-19 death rates in England with those in Scotland despite the SNP leader regularly claiming that the two were not comparable.

In several media interviews Ms Sturgeon denied claims Scotland’s care home mortality was worse than other parts of the UK.

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However, statistical bulletins sent to her office by the National Records of Scotland and obtained by The Scotsman through freedom of information laws show her own statisticians disagreed, labelling them “broadly comparable”.

The Scottish Conservatives said the revelations meant the Scottish Government had “fresh questions to answer” over its handling of care homes during the pandemic.

The bulletins included detailed annexes which were left unpublished that directly compared England and Wales and Scotland’s care home death rates.

This began in mid-April with bulletins continuing to be produced until the end of June 2020.

When asked by Andrew Marr on April 26 last year why so many more Scots proportionately had died in care homes when compared to England and Wales, the First Minister claimed there was an “underestimate” in the English figures.

She said: “I don’t know what the England and Wales figures are entirely based on. I think it is for others to suggest, I have read comments that suggest there is an underestimate in the rest of the UK but I can’t say that for sure.

"What I do know is that if you look at the emerging evidence from other countries...in many other countries the percentage of deaths in care homes are much more in line with what the figures in Scotland are showing, in fact even higher, some countries at maybe 40 or 50 per cent.

"Scotland’s data is more up to date and I think more granular in many respects.”

In fact, Ms Sturgeon had received an official update from the NRS stating that the percentage of Covid-19 deaths in care homes in Scotland was 25 per cent with the “comparable” figure in England and Wales sitting at 10 per cent.

On May 31 in an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News, the First Minister repeated the claim, stating: “It is often put to me the death rate, for want of a better expression, in care homes in Scotland is higher than it is in England and I just don’t believe that is the case.”

However an official NRS pre-release bulletin sent to Ms Sturgeon’s office the week prior states the figures are “broadly comparable” and adds a total of 46 per cent of all Scottish Covid deaths had taken place in care homes compared to 28 per cent in England and Wales.

Nowhere does the official bulletin state there is evidence of an “underestimate” around English and Welsh care home death rates.

The Scottish Conservative’s social care spokesperson, Craig Hoy said the bulletins raised new questions for the First Minister.

He said: “It was often the case that Nicola Sturgeon didn’t want to answer questions, or make comparisons, when it was put to her that Scotland’s care home death rate was higher than our neighbours.

“This information now poses fresh questions for the First Minister. If she didn’t believe it was fair to make these comparisons, then we must ask why was a Government agency producing these bulletins on behalf of her government?”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The work was not commissioned by the First Minister’s office, nor was any NRS official seconded to work on it. Rather, the briefing formed part of NRS’s weekly Covid 19 briefing to the Scottish Government from May 2020.

“The analysis that was carried out was based entirely on statistics that were published and already in the public domain. It is entirely sensible for ministers to be briefed on information that they may be questioned on, not least as the data being considered was and is routinely published on a regular basis at Scottish and UK levels.

“Covid-19 deaths in Scotland have taken a toll on families across our nation. It is of no comfort to those who have lost a loved one to Covid-19 that the rate of deaths in England was substantially higher than Scotland. That’s why we hope that a full public inquiry on all matters related to the pandemic, including in care homes, is taken forward as quickly as possible on a four nation basis.”

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