Jeane Freeman has hit out at the Westminster government for a lack of consultation on UK-wide coronavirus decisions, as she denied her handling of the crisis in care homes had been an “unmitigated disaster”.
The health secretary told MPs that there was “a vacuum” at the heart of the four-nations approach to tackling Covid-19 and said Boris Johnson’s administration was unwilling to engage in “shared decision making”.
The comments came as Ms Freeman faced criticism herself for the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Scottish care homes.
There have so far been 1,818 Covid deaths in Scottish care homes, as opposed to 1,815 in hospitals.
North-east MP Andrew Bowie, who sits on the Scottish Affairs Committee, said the handling of the crisis had been an “unmitigated disaster” as he asked the health secretary if she had any regrets.
Ms Freeman responded: “I think that we took the steps that we took in terms of care homes going right back to the beginning of March, based on the information and the evidence we had at that time.
“That’s not to say that I don’t think, with hindsight, there are lessons to be learned and decisions that were made at the time that I would not necessarily make now.”
Mr Bowie said it was an “understatement” to say lessons should be learned.
“This was a poor performance from a failing health secretary who has no regrets and takes no responsibility,” he said after the hearing.
There is currently a vacuum in terms of shared discussion and shared decision making at ministerial level.”
Ms Freeman was later asked to explain how she believed the four-nations approach to Covid-19 had worked.
“There has been significant engagement throughout by scientists and clinicians, as you would expect, that is the nature of the scientific and the academic community”, she said.
“I have to say, though, that the engagement at senior ministerial and political level has not been as consistent as we would wish it to be.
“There is currently a vacuum in terms of shared discussion and shared decision making at ministerial level”, she added.
“The first minister has had calls both with Michael Gove and with the prime minister, but there has been no forums for that shared discussion and decision making, that you would have through Cobra.”
Ms Freeman also revealed that the Scottish Government had not been consulted on the development of the UK Government’s contact tracing mobile app.
She said: “We have not had any involvement in its development.
“As it develops to a point where it is considered viable, we will be wanting to consider how we might use it.”