Sarwar angered by Scottish minister’s admission of pandemic mistakes

Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter
·3-min read

Admissions by the Scottish Health Secretary that mistakes were made at the start of the pandemic in moving patients from hospitals to care homes are “deeply frustrating”, Anas Sarwar has said.

Speaking on the BBC’s Politically Thinking podcast, Jeane Freeman said the Scottish Government had failed in “understanding the social care sector well enough” and “didn’t take the right precautions” in the early part of the pandemic.

In October, a report released by Public Health Scotland found more than 100 patients had been discharged from hospitals into care homes following a positive Covid-19 test.

Anas Sarwar
Anas Sarwar said the admission by Jeane Freeman angered him (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Speaking to journalists on Friday, Scottish Labour leader Mr Sarwar said that despite medical evidence to the contrary, it was “common sense” not to discharge patients from hospitals to care homes.

“I find it deeply, deeply frustrating and frankly it makes me angry,” he said.

“I remember saying at the time, when (the Scottish Government) were hiding behind medical advice, it’s common sense.

“It’s basic common sense that you don’t send Covid-positive patients into a care home where you are housing the most vulnerable people to the virus.”

Mr Sarwar described the move as a “catastrophic error”, adding that someone within the Scottish Government must be held accountable.

“An apology is one part and I think an apology should be forthcoming,” he said.

“But an apology is not enough, people have lost loved ones.

“That was a decision that cost lives and I’m not sure that an apology is going to be comfort to those families that have lost a loved one.

“There has to be some responsibility for that and a full and urgent investigation into how that took place, because it’s unforgivable.”

Ms Freeman, who has served in Holyrood since 2016, is not standing for re-election in May and will therefore be stepping down as Health Secretary.

Mr Sarwar said questions should now be asked of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“I don’t know whether Jeane is being put up as a fall person because they know that Jeane is retiring, the reality is that these decisions were being fronted and taken by the First Minister,” he said.

“She was in full knowledge of these decisions, these decisions would have had her approval.

“They were flagged to her repeatedly in Parliament and the mistakes continued to be made.

Jeane Freeman
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is not standing for re-election May (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

“I don’t think the Government should be hiding behind Jeane Freeman because she is retiring, I think there are serious questions for Nicola Sturgeon about this and serious questions for the Scottish Government.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross agreed with Mr Sarwar, saying in a statement on Friday: “The public deserve upfront honesty when a grave mistake like this is made.

“Instead, the SNP hid their errors, tried to spin and manipulate a report on care home deaths, and they’ve kept everyone in the dark about what really happened.

“This admission raises serious questions for Nicola Sturgeon about what she knew and when about the transfer of Covid-positive patients to care homes, where so many vulnerable people ultimately lost their lives.

“Jeane Freeman has indicated the SNP Government were at fault, which confirms the need for an urgent public inquiry but also raises the possibility of legal action from families.

“We are only just starting to get answers when the Health Secretary has one foot out the door, which leaves an obvious question – why are we only finding out about this now?”