Few would envy having such a great responsibility, given the difficulties of balancing competing risks in the knowledge that people would likely die whatever steps were taken. It was akin to a war-time situation and it was almost inevitable that mistakes would be made.
The Scottish Government’s decision to send hospital patients to care homes even if they had not been tested for Covid was made because it was thought the beds would be needed to cope with vast numbers of seriously ill people.
And while this may have seemed like a necessary step, if not an ideal one, the appalling death toll in Scotland’s care homes – where nearly 3,800 people died up until March 2021 – suggests this was a serious error. And sending Covid-positive patients to care homes was a catastrophic one.
At Holyrood yesterday, following a ruling by England’s High Court that a similar UK Government policy was illegal, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked Nicola Sturgeon if she accepted the Scottish Government’s policy had been “unlawful, unreasonable, irrational and cost lives”.
She replied: “No, I don't accept that, although these are matters now, rightly and properly, that will be scrutinised by the public inquiry that is under way in Scotland and, of course, the parallel public inquiry that will take place into these matters UK-wide.”
This may have been a lawyer’s answer to a question alleging illegality but, based on the known facts, the First Minister should have acknowledged that, in hindsight, mistakes were made.
This is particularly clear in the failure to alter the guidance on discharges into care homes until April 21, six days after UK policy was changed to require patients to be tested for Covid south of the Border.
The fact that both the Scottish and UK governments changed the policy demonstrates it was a mistake.
Sturgeon was put in an unenviable situation by circumstance, something that should be recognised, but now she needs to help the process of learning from the mistakes that were made by her government. We hope that, when asked similar questions by Scotland’s Covid inquiry, she will be more willing to admit to them.