Secret lessons learned review of Covid-19 handling to be published by Scottish Government

A secret review into the lessons learned by the Scottish Government from Covid-19 is set to be published within the next three months, The Scotsman can reveal.

Nicola Sturgeon's government has said it will publish a 'lessons learned' review of its handling of Covid-19

It comes as opposition parties repeat calls for the SNP to establish a full, Scotland-specific inquiry into the pandemic as soon as possible.

Nicola Sturgeon’s party fought the Holyrood election in May on the promise that within the first 100 days of it being returned to government, it would “begin to take the necessary steps” to establish such an inquiry.

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As of Monday, July 25, the Scottish Government has fewer than 20 days to fulfil its promise.

The Scottish Conservatives said it was time for the SNP to “own up to their mistakes”, while Scottish Labour added it was time for the party to “stop making excuses” and set up the public inquiry.

The Scotsman can reveal a secret ‘lessons learned’ review around the Scottish Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has been undertaken.

The secret review can only be confirmed to exist following a freedom of information request to the government.

In response to the request, more than a month and a half later than legally required, the Scottish Government said it will publish the review within the next 12 weeks rather than disclosing it to The Scotsman.

The government was asked for a specific publication date and an indication of what the review covered, but failed to provide additional detail.

Boris Johnson’s government said the work was “informal, not public-facing” and refused to make it public.

HuffPost reported the document was not an over-arching cross-Whitehall procedure and was not a “full-scale probe” into all aspects of the pandemic.

It is not known whether the Scottish Government document is similar or more wide-ranging.

The disclosure such a document exists within the Scottish Government led to opposition parties reiterating the need for a full public inquiry and saw the SNP come under fire for its approach to transparency.

Reacting, Scottish Labour’s Covid recovery spokesperson and depute leader Jackie Baillie said the nature of the disclosure of the document was “piecemeal” and raised “serious questions”.

She said: “Learning the lessons of the pandemic is absolutely essential – but the piecemeal and secretive way the SNP seem to be going about it raises serious questions.

“We should not be relying on FOIs to cajole information out of them about this important work.

“Whatever this review may cover, there is no substitute for the full Scotland-specific inquiry we need – but the government are still dragging their feet on this.

“They tried to kick this down the line by waiting for a UK-wide inquiry, but their 100 day deadline is fast approaching.

“It’s time to stop making excuses and focus on getting the answers the public deserve.”

Annie Wells, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesperson added that that it was “simply not good enough” to “bury an answer in an FOI”.

She said: “Grieving families across Scotland who have lost loved ones during the pandemic are crying out for answers from the SNP Government.

“They don’t deserve to wait a moment longer. It simply isn’t good enough that the SNP Government think it is appropriate to bury an answer in a FOI request that says they’ll say what lessons have been learned in the next three months.

“It is all too typical of Ministers trying to avoid scrutiny for their failings. The Scottish Conservatives remain committed to pushing for a Scottish specific Covid inquiry to begin immediately to deliver the truth to the public.

“Nicola Sturgeon promised answers on a Scottish inquiry within the first 100 days of the election, but has already rowed back on that commitment.

“It is time for the SNP to own up to their mistakes to guarantee our elderly and vulnerable will never be left unprotected in the same way ever again.”

Outgoing leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, added: “At the end of the first wave, I urged the Scottish Government to publish a review of lessons learned ahead of a second wave. That did not take place.

“Ultimately what we need is an independent and far reaching public inquiry to assess the decisions that were taken in responding to the virus crisis.”

In May, health secretary Humza Yousaf told the BBC that an inquiry is planned by the Scottish Government and that he will determine the remit and the identity of the chair.

The SNP manifesto commits the government to beginning the process of establishing a Covid-19 inquiry within its first 100 days of government, and to holding a Scotland-specific version.

Nicola Sturgeon rejected claims the government had rowed back on this pledge in late May, described accusations it had backtracked on the commitment “nonsense” after the UK Government announced plans to hold its own inquiry in 2022.

She said: “There is no backtracking. The commitment to a public inquiry stands.

"But since the UK Government’s announcement, we have agreed to four nations’ discussions (which is usually what the opposition demands!) to see what agreement on remit etc. is possible)."

Scotland continues to record high numbers of Covid-19 cases, but the overall trend appears to be on the way down with the lowest number of positive cases recorded for more than a month on Sunday.

Just 1,237 people tested positive for the virus, the Scottish Government said, but that number is expected to increase due to the lack of data from NHS Tayside since Friday evening.

No new deaths were recorded, with 480 people in hospital and 64 in intensive care, up two and four respectively from Saturday.

A total of 3,997,105 people have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, including 3,079,492 Scots who have had both doses.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Following the UK Government’s decision to follow us in committing to a full UK-wide public inquiry, we have been considering how its remit might impact on a Scottish inquiry. When we have a greater sense of that remit, we will make a judgment on the extent to which the UK-wide inquiry will cover Scottish specific issues and therefore what may fall to be considered by a Scotland-only inquiry.

“We remain committed to a public inquiry that will begin work this year and consider matters relating to Scotland’s handling of the pandemic.”

They added: “We continually look to review our handling of the pandemic and seek to learn from best practice. We are planning to publish a report in the coming weeks which will help feed into this process.”

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