Nicola Sturgeon ordered to explain why untested patients were sent into care homes during pandemic
Nicola Sturgeon will be ordered to provide evidence to the UK public inquiry into the Covid pandemic response after her government sent untested patients into care homes.
The UK Covid-19 inquiry is to hold hearings in Scotland as part of Baroness Heather Hallett’s investigation into the UK’s “preparedness and response” to the virus.
Jamie Dawson KC, the Scottish senior counsel to the inquiry, said the First Minister will be among politicians and officials to be issued with a rule nine request – a demand for a written statement, along with any other documentation the inquiry wants. Ms Sturgeon may also be asked to provide oral evidence.
John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, and Jeane Freeman, the SNP’s former health secretary, are among other high-profile Scottish politicians expected to be issued with rule nine requests.
Mr Dawson told a virtual hearing that requests would be sent to “multiple Cabinet secretaries of the Scottish government who played roles in high level political and administrative decisions with which this module is concerned”.
Claire Mitchell KC, representing the Scottish Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, told the inquiry of the “deeply unsettling” impact of former UK health secretary Matt Hancock’s messages during the pandemic after they were leaked to The Telegraph.
The Lockdown Files investigation revealed that Mr Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer for England’s advice to test for Covid all residents going into care homes south of the border.
Baroness Hallett said she could not control the publication of the messages, but said the inquiry was “in the process of obtaining all relevant WhatsApp messages from all relevant groups”.
Ms Freeman has also admitted that “we didn’t take the right precautions” when thousands of elderly hospital patients in Scotland were transferred to care homes at the start of the pandemic without being tested.
At the beginning of the virus crisis, SNP ministers decided to free up hospital beds for Covid patients by clearing the backlog of delayed discharges – elderly people fit enough to leave hospital but without somewhere suitable to go.
An official report found that 113 Scottish hospital patients who had tested positive for coronavirus, without later testing negative, were transferred to care homes in March, April and May 2020.
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.
‘In Scotland, with Scotland, for Scotland’
The UK inquiry will examine the initial response, central government decision-making, political and Civil Service performance as well as the effectiveness of relationships with governments in the devolved administrations and local and voluntary sectors.
It will have strands for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with hearings held in the nations they concern. A separate Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry, presided over by Lord Brailsford, is to be held in parallel.
Speaking from Edinburgh, Mr Dawson told Baroness Hallett that requests had already been served to Scottish government directorates, and core participants in the inquiry would be kept informed of its progress in monthly updates.
“All of those who are involved in this module are working on familiarising themselves with the issues which faced Scotland in the pandemic and the investigation of the Scottish decisions which this module involves, all within the framework of a larger UK inquiry,” he said.
“Those listening should be in no doubt this inquiry operates in Scotland, with Scotland and for Scotland.”
Geoffrey Mitchell KC, representing Scottish ministers, told the preliminary hearing it was “right and proper that both the UK inquiry and the Scottish inquiry examined those issues from their own standpoints”.