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Scottish Government’s ‘arrogant reluctance’ to start care homes inquiry

Donald Cameron MSP.
Donald Cameron MSP.

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of kicking the Scottish Parliament’s call for an immediate public inquiry into the coronavirus care home “scandal” into the long grass.

Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said the first minister had failed to reassure relatives of care home residents after raising care home deaths at First Minister’s Questions.

Mr Cameron questioned Ms Sturgeon the day after the Scottish Government was defeated in a Holyrood vote on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon has argued that care home fatalities should be included when an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s overall handling of the pandemic takes place.

A Conservative motion proposing an “immediate public inquiry to find out what happened in Scotland’s care homes during the course of the pandemic, which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 residents” – was passed by 64 votes to one, with 57 abstentions.

Donald Cameron MSP.

An amendment from Health Secretary Jeane Freeman saying a coronavirus public inquiry should be held “as quickly as is practicable, once the country is through the immediacy of dealing with the pandemic” was narrowly rejected, with MSPs voting by 60 votes to 62 against this.

The government’s defeat came the week after Public Health Scotland data showed 113 patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were transferred from hospitals to care homes.

A further 3,061 people were discharged from hospitals and into homes without being tested at all.

At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said the government was exploring whether a public inquiry into care home deaths could cover all four nations of the UK.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

She said Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has written to her counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on the issue.

Sturgeon seeks discussions with UK nations on inquiry

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government has “long been clear we would be instigating a public inquiry into all aspects of the response to and impact of Covid, and that includes care homes”.

But she said ministers will “take note of the views of Parliament” after the Holyrood vote.

She added: “Because of that this morning the Health Secretary has written to counterparts in the Northern Irish, Welsh and UK governments to seek early discussions on whether and how such an inquiry could be established on a four-nations basis.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

In addition to Ms Freeman contacting other UK health ministers, Ms Sturgeon said the Health Secretary will also be seeking talks with her opposition counterparts.

But the first minister added:  “As all members of the chamber know, to establish a statutory public inquiry takes certain steps and cannot simply be done overnight.

“But our commitment to doing that, and to doing that as quickly as possible, while ensuring those on the frontline in any capacity can continue to focus on getting the country through the second wave of Covid, our commitment to doing that is absolute.”

‘An arrogant reluctance’

Speaking after their exchange at Holyrood, Mr Cameron said the Scottish Government should “think again” and establish an inquiry without further delay.

Mr Cameron said: “Parliament voted for a public inquiry into the care homes scandal in Scotland to begin immediately.

“Yet less than 24 hours later, this jaded SNP government has again demonstrated an arrogant reluctance to do the right thing.

“Today’s answer from the First Minister said nothing of substance and did nothing to reassure the relatives of those who died. Instead, it showed the SNP just want to kick this into the long grass.

“This tin-eared defiance will not wash and I would urge the SNP to think again. This is now a matter of public trust.

“Parliament has spoken and those who have lost loved ones expect the inquiry to begin without any further delay.”