Health Secretary Humza Yousaf “inaccurately presented” the number of children in hospital because of Covid, a statistical watchdog has said.
In a recent interview, Mr Yousaf said 10 children under the age of nine had been admitted to hospital between May 24 and 30 “because of Covid”.
However, it was later found the figures include children who tested positive for the virus in the two weeks before or even during their stay in hospital, meaning coronavirus may not have been the reason for the admission.
Mr Yousaf later said he “regrets” any alarm caused.
Ed Humpherson, director-general for regulation at the UK Statistics Authority, has now said in a letter to Scotland’s Chief Statistician Roger Halliday that the information was “inaccurately presented”.
Mr Humpherson said he accepts Mr Yousaf’s comments were “a genuine mistake” and praised the response from the Scottish Government to them.
But he stressed the importance of ministers being properly informed and any statistics quoted being made available.
He wrote: “By way of background, the figure used was not available publicly at the time the statement was made, and it was inaccurately presented.
“We were pleased to see that the figure used by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care was published as part of an ad-hoc release which included an explanatory note to support any future interpretation.
“It is also encouraging to hear that Public Health Scotland is now working to publish data on the age ranges of those hospitalised on a more routine basis to meet public interest in these data.
“We would encourage as part of this work, if possible, to include if the admissions were because of Covid-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else.
“Whilst we understand that on this occasion it was a genuine mistake, which was quickly corrected, I would like to reiterate the importance of ensuring ministers are appropriately briefed and any figures referred to publicly must be made available.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Health Secretary has already expressed his regret for any alarm his remarks may have caused – and the Statistics Authority has acknowledged this was ‘a genuine mistake’ made shortly after the Health Secretary had taken on his new role.
“The Scottish Government responded swiftly and published the figures quoted with clear definitions and notes to help understand the data.
“The Health Secretary was answering a question about whether a parent in Level 2 should take their child to a soft play in Level 1 and was simply highlighting the risks of people breaching Covid-19 restrictions.
“The age group currently showing the second-highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is children under 14 – and we need to be extremely careful to avoid giving the impression that there is no risk to children from Covid-19.”