Nicola Sturgeon denies 'spin' over damning care homes report

Dan Sanderson
·4-min read
The First Minister was challenged over how she presented the findings at First Minister's Questions - PA/Andy Buchanan
The First Minister was challenged over how she presented the findings at First Minister's Questions - PA/Andy Buchanan
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Nicola Sturgeon has denied attempting to “spin” the findings of a probe which revealed more than 100 hospital patients who had tested positive for coronavirus were sent to Scottish care homes in the early stages of the pandemic.

The First Minister and SNP ministers have repeatedly drawn attention to a conclusion of the long-awaited report, which said there had not been a statistical link proven between discharges of Covid-positive and untested patients to care homes and outbreaks.

However, opposition parties said other findings had pointed towards a clear link between the practice and the virus taking hold in facilities.

The report authors said that their “best estimate” was that sending a patient who had tested positive for coronavirus into a care home increased the risk of an outbreak by 45 per cent, and the figure could have been as high as 374 per cent.

Meanwhile, just 13.5 per cent of care homes which were never sent a hospital patient experienced a Covid outbreak, compared to 38 per cent among those that were.

Ruth Davidson raised the report at Holyrood - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP
Ruth Davidson raised the report at Holyrood - ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood, said “delay, spin and sleight of hand” was “the very last thing that grieving families should have to expect.”

She also questioned why a "crucial line" from the report authors, saying it was "likely that hospital discharges are the source of introduction of infection in a small number of cases”, was included in a briefing to journalists but was missing from the final report.

Ms Davidson said: “This report was delayed by a month and it’s been handled poorly.  Key lines are missing and vital pieces of information have been left out.

“We still don’t know how high the true risk might have been from putting Covid-positive patients into care homes or the answer to the basic question of how many care homes suffered outbreaks after taking in a Covid-positive patient.

“We need the public inquiry to start now. There is so much that we still don’t know. The First Minister must order Public Health Scotland to go back and fill in the blanks.”

According to the report, 113 hospital patients who had tested positive for coronavirus, without later testing negative, were transferred to care homes in March, April and May. A further 3,061 were sent from hospitals to care homes in the period without being tested. There are fears that these patients could have introduced the virus to care homes, with catastrophic consequences. A policy requiring a hospital patient to test negative before transfer was not introduced until April 21.

Scottish Labour also called for work on a public inquiry to begin, with Monica Lennon, the party’s health spokeswoman, saying that a chair should be appointed and discussions held over the terms of reference “at the very least.”

She said:  “A public inquiry can take years to conclude, and many surviving partners and family members of those who died from Covid-19 in the first wave feel they don’t have time to waste.”

However, Ms Sturgeon rejected calls for a public inquiry into care home deaths to begin urgently. The First Minister said that while an inquiry would eventually take place, Scotland  was in the "grip of a second wave" so it was the wrong time for such an investigation.

Almost half of coronavirus deaths in Scotland have happened in care homes, which according to statisticians is a higher proportion than in other UK nations.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs of the "depths of my regret at what happened in care homes" and rejected claims she had sought to spin the report findings, saying she had merely “quoted the conclusion of the report”.

She added: “The report has hard messages for us. It tells us some of what we think are factors driving outbreaks in care homes, but there is still work to do to understand that.

"I do not expect any grieving family to think that they have all the answers to their questions in this report. I want to do everything that we can to provide those answers and to make sure that there is full learning and accountability in due course.”