The Scottish Government’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic was “not perfect”, John Swinney has said.
The deputy first minister was discussing his government’s performance in the wake of a report from the auditor general which highlighted its failures around PPE and social care.
The report said Scotland’s initial response to Covid-19 was based on preparations for a major influenza pandemic, with three government training exercises carried out in the past five years.
Specific recommendations emerged from the pandemic preparations – including securing personal protective equipment and increasing the “capacity and capability of social care to cope during an outbreak”.
But the new report by Scotland’s auditor general Stephen Boyle concluded the Scottish Government was “slow” at implementing the improvements from the simulations in some of the areas that would become a “significant challenge” during the pandemic response.
While it praised the government’s fast response to the coronavirus outbreak, the report states that the Scottish Government “could have been better prepared to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic” and lessons must be learned.
‘A fair picture’
Speaking to Good Morning Scotland today, Mr Swinney said he accepted the report “painted a fair picture”.
He said: “It raises issues the government must reflect on and we have been very clear that not everything we have done will have been perfect.
“We therefore must be open to examining and exploring how better that could be done at any stage in the future.”
A date for that potential inquiry would appear to be a long way off however, as Mr Swinney said the country must remain focused on handling the current emergency situation.
The Perthshire North MSP said: “There were changes that were required to be made and we made them.
“There must be a time to review all of these issues and that will come later because we are still in the midst of handling an emergency.
“The government is committed to a full inquiry of all the issues around Covid but I think members of the public will understand ministers are absolutely focused on dealing with the here and now to help protect them.”
NHS staff have shown ‘extraordinary commitment’
Other failures identified in the report included a lack of guidance about how Scotland’s social care sector could cope with a flu pandemic, despite being identified as a priority.
One of the simulation exercises also “highlighted the need for substantive progress in the area of PPE availability and use across Scotland” with clarity about accessing a stockpile of equipment identified as another priority.
No guidance was ever published.
Audit Scotland now recommends the government publishes national pandemic guidance for the health and social care sector as a priority, including lessons that have been learned during the Covid-19 pandemic and the previous planning exercises.
Actions taken to prevent Scotland’s NHS from becoming overwhelmed during the pandemic means the health service is now facing a “substantial backlog of patients”, according to the report.
It adds: “It will be hard to deal with this backlog alongside the financial and operational challenges already faced by boards.”
Commenting on the report, Mr Boyle added: “NHS staff have shown extraordinary commitment to treating and caring for Scotland’s people during a pandemic that has highlighted the need to deal with long-standing health inequalities.
“Getting the full range of health services back up and running will be challenging.
“But there are clear lessons to be learned from the pandemic, both in how the country could have been better prepared and in the innovation that we’ve seen.
“It’s essential that these advances are now retained and built upon.”
‘Dithering and dereliction’
The Scottish Conservatives’ shadow health secretary Donald Cameron said the auditor general’s report highlighted “a decade of dithering and dereliction”.
He said: “No-one could have foreseen the full extent of what happened, but this report raises serious questions of SNP ministers.
“Even if they find it difficult coming clean, they have an obligation to learn from these costly mistakes.”
The Scottish Conservatives were invited to comment on the UK Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic but chose not to do so.