The first minister has branded comments made by Aberdeen Grampian and Chamber of Commerce boss Russell Borthwick as “manifestly not true”.
Nicola Sturgeon was asked for her response to Mr Borthwick’s claims by The Press and Journal during a question session held following her Covid briefing today (December 10).
Mr Borthwick said illness and pressure on the NHS “happens every year” and that Scotland’s director of public health science, Dr Nick Phin, should “ensure sufficient beds capacity rather than doing his best to destroy businesses and jobs”.
Mr Borthwick posted the comments on social media platform LinkedIn saying they were his “own personal views and not those of the organisation I work for”.
‘It’s just not true’
When Ms Sturgeon was asked for her response she said: “I’m going to give Russell the courtesy of saying I haven’t read his comments and I’d be surprised if his comments were that unnuanced.
“Anybody who thinks that what we see in terms of pressure on the NHS from a global pandemic of an infectious virus is the same as what we see every year – I find that hard to believe that anybody would make that statement. It’s just not true.
“What we are seeing and what we might see in terms of pressure on the NHS coming from this is of an order of magnitude bigger than what we would see in a normal year.
“You cannot staff a health service in normal times to always be at the level that we need to deal with during a global pandemic clearly.
“I suspect there slightly maybe more nuance to Russell’s comments than that but if that is the case, then that is just manifestly not true.”
Mr Borthwick responded: “If the first minister wishes to question the veracity of what I said, I’d be happy to discuss it with her the next time she is in Aberdeen.”
In his statement the chamber boss questioned the potential danger of the new Covid variant, Omicron, and called the latest advice from public health officials an “unacceptable intervention from the nanny state”.
Public Health Scotland has asked people to postpone their Christmas parties to “another time” when Covid – and the Omicron variant in particular – poses less of a threat.
NHS experiencing a global crisis
Martin McKay from the Grampian branch of trade union Unison labelled Mr Borthwick’s comments as “unhelpful”.
Mr Mackay said: “I have been a nurse for 30 year in the NHS and never experienced a period of time like we are in currently.
“Yes, Mr Borthwick is correct in that every winter we have a surge in terms of respiratory illnesses and we also have every winter to plan ahead for that.
“This, however, is unhelpful to talk about this next couple of months in isolation, compared to the last 20 months, because this is a constant pressure that the NHS and our health and social care have been under.
“I understand individual sectors concerns for themselves and their employees but this is a public health emergency, a global crisis.
“These comments are quite dangerous in the current circumstances and I would tell everyone to follow the advice given by Public Health Scotland.”