Coronavirus in Scotland: MSPs back calls for immediate public inquiry into care home response

Opposition MSPs have united to demand the Scottish Government stages an immediate public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic response in care homes.

113 people were discharged from hospitals to care homes after a positive Covid-19 test between March and May.
113 people were discharged from hospitals to care homes after a positive Covid-19 test between March and May.

A motion for the inquiry was put forward by Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Donald Cameron, and passed by 63 votes on Wednesday.

A total of 64 MSPs voted in favour of the motion, with just one against. There were 57 abstentions.

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It comes after a Public Health Scotland report revealed last week that 113 patients were discharged from hospitals to care homes in March to May after having had a positive Covid-19 test but no subsequent negative test.

In total, 3,061 patients were moved without being tested prior to discharge in that period. Of those who were moved after a positive test, 52 were moved within a week of that test.

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113 patients moved from hospitals to care homes after positive Covid-19 test

Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “This government’s failure to protect Scotland's most vulnerable people is a scandal, and I do not shirk from describing it that way.

"It is clear to us and to others in this chamber that only an immediate public inquiry will hold ministers to account and give grieving families the answers they deserve.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman agreed the need for an inquiry, but submitted an amendment calling for it to examine all aspects of the government’s response to the pandemic, not just that regarding care homes.

She also called for the inquiry to be held “as quickly as is practicable”, arguing that in the midst of the second wave of Covid-19 and heading into a difficult winter would not be an appropriate time to divert resources to holding the inquiry.

Other opposition figures supported Mr Cameron’s motion, with Labour Health Spokesperson Monica Lennon labelling the timing of it “crucial”, and adding that “we can’t afford to be slow and to be reactive”.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone warned that an investigation into all aspects of the Covid-19 response would be too broad in scope, and risk causing delays.

The data from Public Health Scotland shows there were 3,599 discharges from hospital to a care home between 1 March and 21 April, of which 82 per cent were not tested for Covid-19.

The report found that care homes faced a 15 per cent higher risk of outbreaks in periods soon after receiving a hospital discharge.

However, Public Health Scotland said it “could not find statistical evidence” of hospital discharges causing Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes, as larger care homes were both more likely to receive discharges and more likely to experience an outbreak.

Ms Freeman said in her closing remarks that there is “no question” that a public inquiry should take place, and agreed with a motion submitted by Ms Lennon that it should take a “human rights approach”.

She said the inquiry should be broader in scope than just focusing on the care home response.

“I am sorry but I do not believe that you can really examine the response of this government to the pandemic, and get the answers that people seek, and that we need to learn from and apply, by focusing solely one one aspect of that response as this motion suggests,” she said.

She added that it is “not the right time” to divert resources to an inquiry.

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