Nicola Sturgeon has rejected calls for an immediate public inquiry into Scotland’s Covid-19 care home catastrophe.
Politicians have demanded an urgent probe into how many infected patients were discharged into care homes. Scottish Tories have urged ministers to ‘tell us what happened — and do it now’.
It comes after it was revealed at the weekend that at least 37 patients – in Ayrshire and Arran, Grampian, Tayside, Fife and Lanarkshire – who had tested positive for the coronavirus were discharged into care homes.
But the First Minister yesterday refused calls to carry out an investigation straight away, amid fears it could cause government to ‘take our eye off the ball’.
Ms Sturgeon told her daily briefing in Holyrood that a public inquiry would occur ‘in due course’ because ‘we may not even be halfway through this pandemic’.
Nicola Sturgeon has rejected calls for an immediate public inquiry into Scotland’s Covid-19 care home catastrophe
She said: ‘This virus is still a day-to-day threat to us, which is why it’s really important … to keep really focused on what we’ve got to do today and tomorrow and next week.’
And she added it was important that we ‘don’t take our eye off that ball in order to become focused on an inquiry’.
Ms Sturgeon was pressed to commit to the inquiry concluding or publishing interim findings before the Holyrood election next year.
But she argued she would not ‘dictate’ timescales and that it was important to keep the balance between holding an inquiry and dealing with the virus.
And Ms Sturgeon said ‘there will undoubtedly be lessons to learn’ but insisted that appropriate guidance was issued ‘at every stage’.
At least five health boards knowingly transferred patients to care homes around the time that lockdown was put in place in March, it was revealed on Sunday.
The Sunday Post claimed that at least 37 potentially infectious people were moved to care homes in a desperate attempt to free up beds.
The Scottish Government has confirmed 1,431 untested patients were moved to care homes between March 1 and April 21, before testing was mandatory.
A unit set up in May is already investigating the near 2,000 deaths in Scotland’s care homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured, a graph shows how many deaths have been recorded each week in different settings in Scotland since the pandemic began
WERE INFECTED PATIENTS DISCHARGED INTO CARE HOMES IN ENGLAND AS WELL?
Nearly 20,000 hospital patients – most of whom hadn’t been tested for coronavirus – were discharged into care homes during the first weeks of lockdown, it emerged in June.
Up until April 16, government guidelines said patients should be released into care homes – even if they had tested positive for Covid-19.
Official public health guidance issued on February 25 stated: ‘It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.’
The policy, described as ‘disastrous’, was blamed for the catastrophic spread of the virus in care homes, killing nearly 15,000 elderly and vulnerable residents.
Charities said it was a failure to allow a single person to be discharged into care homes without being tested.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘This awful statistic shows how devastating the consequences have been in care homes from the failure to get enough tests for the virus organised quickly enough.’
In the wake of the Sunday Post’s report, Scottish Labour called on the Lord Advocate to urgently investigate the scandal.
A unit set up in May is already investigating the near 2,000 deaths in Scotland’s care homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon has now asked if the dedicated group will look into the revelations, which she called ‘deadly’.
She asked James Wolffe QC to find out whether the policy to discharge patients into care homes was widespread and who was aware of it.
And Ms Lennon called for him to discover if care homes were even aware of positive test results before infected residents were admitted.
Ms Lennon said it was ‘unacceptable’ that the Scottish Government has failed to be transparent, saying care homes deaths have been the ‘crisis within a crisis’.
‘Tragically, thousands of older people have died and there must be accountability for decisions that led to the virus infiltrating care homes in the first place,’ she added.
‘It will be extremely distressing to impacted families to learn that Covid-19 positive patients were knowingly discharged from hospital to care homes.’
She added that the ‘least they deserve is a commitment that this will be thoroughly investigated’.
The Scottish Tories also called for an urgent inquiry into the matter, which they said should start this week.
Donald Cameron, the health spokesman for the the party, warned ‘waiting is not an option’ and an investigation must be immediately carried out.
He said: ‘The horrendous decision to send dozens of Covid patients to care homes cannot be swept under the carpet any longer.
‘Families of victims have been left in the dark about how their loved ones died – and they still don’t know the full picture.
‘There can be no more delays and secrecy. Light must be shone on how this scandal happened immediately.
‘The SNP must begin an inquiry into how Covid patients were sent to care homes – and it has to start this week.’
A similar scandal was uncovered in England, with MPs warning that care homes were ‘thrown to the wolves’ during the pandemic.
The policy, described as ‘disastrous’ was blamed for the catastrophic spread of the virus in care homes, killing nearly 15,000 elderly and vulnerable residents.
In March the NHS was keen to free up hospital beds for incoming Covid-19 patients, and the Government said testing was not necessary on discharge.
Nearly 20,000 hospital patients – most of whom hadn’t been tested for coronavirus – were discharged into care homes during the first weeks of lockdown.