Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admits a “mistake” was made in publicising “sensitive” information contained in the Scottish Government’s vaccination roll-out programme.
The Scottish Conservatives have led calls for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to investigate whether the ministerial code may was broken by Ms Freeman in revealing the location of vaccine storage in Holyrood on Wednesday.
The Scottish Government was also forced to take down its official vaccine delivery plan from its website on the same day due to concerns around the level of data published, including information on how many vaccine doses the UK is due to receive.
The Health Secretary said a “mistake” was made in publishing information” the UK Government “considers to be sensitive”, admitting she is personally “accountable” for the error.
Speaking during the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, Ms Freeman also revealed she agreed with Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who said the return of schools on February 1 is a “tall order”.
Ms Sturgeon will provide an update to parliament on Tuesday on the latest lockdown measures, including schools.
The detail on supply figures is understood to have angered ministers in London, who said publication of the UK’s numbers would lead to suppliers coming under pressure from other countries.
Ms Freeman said she had “apologised directly” to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Thursday and that it had “not damaged relationships” between herself and colleagues in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
‘Serious lapses of judgement’
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron has written to the first minister to share his “serious concerns” over the matter and requesting that the “possible breach” be investigated.
He said: “There is a clear case that the ministerial code may have been broken by the failure to properly respect the confidentiality of sensitive information.
“These are not mere day-to-day gaffes, they are serious lapses of judgement. Repeated mistakes like this cannot be overlooked when so much is at stake.”
Asked about the claim she had broken the ministerial code, the under-fire health secretary said she is sure the first minister would take any such assertion “very seriously” and “make up her mind on that”.
Ms Freeman added there was “no malicious intent” to the gaffe and that it was done with the “intention of being as transparent with the public on the information we hold in order to explain to them how we are going to roll out what is an absolutely critical vaccination programme”.
‘A tall order’
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this month the government is aiming to get all pupils back in schools by the start of February.
With a review imminent, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney said the return of schools on February 1 is a “tall order”, though a final decision will not be announced until Tuesday.
Ms Freeman said she would “share that view” but stressed the Cabinet will come to a final conclusion on Tuesday, adding she “did not know” what that would be.
Return to schools
Scotland’s National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch, said although evidence shows schools are “not a large driver of transmission”, case numbers are “still too high to have all the adults and all the children in those school buildings”.
He added: “As soon as that prevalence falls to a level we think is safe, we will give that advice to the government because we know how important it is to the wellbeing of children to be in schools.”
Professor Leitch said the three variables public health officials will have to take account of when giving advice on whether schools should go back are geography, the age of the pupils and the numbers within the school.
As an example, he said the decision “might” be taken to go back to a system where the response in the islands is different from the mainland, due to the lower prevalence of cases.
Scotland has recorded 61 deaths of coronavirus patients and 2,160 new cases in the past 24 hours.
A total of 636 of these cases was in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 339 in Lanarkshire and 262 in Lothian.
A total of 162 positive cases were recorded across Grampian, 81 in Highland, four in Shetland and one in Orkney.
Across Fife, 134 cases were recorded, and 131 in Tayside.
Ms Freeman said the daily test positivity rate is 7.5%, down from 8.3% on Wednesday, when 1,707 positive cases were recorded.
The health secretary also revealed there were 13 proposals, spanning across 20 council areas, for expanded community testing.
Work on this will begin in the Grampian and Fife areas, she confirmed, with the other areas “coming on board shortly thereafter”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our priority is to be as transparent as possible, giving the public as much information as we can about the roll-out and delivery of the vaccine plan.
“We also take security very seriously; that is why we amended the vaccine plan, taking out sensitive information as soon as we were made aware of the issue.
“The First Minister will respond to Mr Cameron in due course.”