Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed calls for an immediate public inquiry into coronavirus in care homes after being urged to “fill in the blanks” of a delayed report that grieving families criticised for providing too few answers.
The first minister insisted the time was not right for such an investigation, with the country in the grip of a second wave of the virus, but restated her commitment to holding a “full public inquiry” in due course.
The SNP leader faced a grilling from opposition parties at first minister’s questions the day after Public Health Scotland published its report on the transfer of elderly patients from hospitals to care homes in the early months of the pandemic.
It found more than 100 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were discharged from hospitals into care homes without first receiving a negative test.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson highlighted figures from the report showing the increased risk of an outbreak from a patient with the virus being sent to a care home could be as high as 374%.
I don’t expect any grieving family to think they have all the answers to the questions they have in this report.”
Ms Davidson said the Scottish Government had failed to provide further answers on key omissions from the report, including what percentage of homes suffered an outbreak after receiving a Covid-positive resident.
“This report was delayed by a month and it’s been handled poorly,” she said. “Key lines are missing and vital pieces of information have been left out. Such delays, spin and sleight of hand is the very last thing that grieving families should have to expect.”
Ms Davidson claimed a “crucial line” that stated it was “likely that hospital discharges are the source of introduction of infection in a small number of cases” was not included in the final document.
“We need a public inquiry to start now,” she said. “There is still so much we don’t know. The first minister must order Public Health Scotland to go back and fill in the blanks.”
The report itself notes investigators lacked consistent data on positive tests from staff, did not include information submitted by care homes themselves and only examined whether hospital discharge was associated with a facility’s first positive case.
Three times the risk of an outbreak
Ms Sturgeon was also pressed on the issue by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who said “care homes which took discharges were three times more likely to have outbreaks than those who did not”.
He asked: “Are you really comfortable telling the families of those who have lost loved ones that there is no link between your government’s decision to discharge people into care homes untested and the tragic outbreaks which then occurred?”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, Monica Lennon, called on ministers to “at the very least” appoint a chair to lead the inquiry and hold discussions with opposition parties and key stakeholders on what information needs to be gathered.
Ms Sturgeon, who spoke of the depths of her regret at what happened in care homes, told MSPs there would be a full public inquiry “when the time for that is right, when we have got the country through this next stage of Covid”.
She said: “I don’t expect any grieving family to think they have all the answers to the questions they have in this report. I want to do everything we can to provide those answers.
“These grieving families and care homes is probably the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep.”
Ms Sturgeon said she was “sorry for any error that I have made in this” and vowed to listen to all of the criticism and scrutiny of her government.
“I’m not carefully choosing my words – I probably don’t have the capacity to do that at the moment,” she said.
“I am trying to be as frank as possible and we’ve got things wrong and we will continue to try to put that right, and we will have all of the normal processes of accountability.”