Former Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman has told the UK COVID-19 Inquiry she will ‘regret for the rest of her life’ care home deaths caused by Scottish government decision-making. More than half of the deaths from coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic occurred in residential care settings.
The former MSP acknowledged that no public warning was issued by the government over the imminent threat of coronavirus until March 2020 despite health experts indicating serious concerns in January.
Ms Freeman was also questioned on the guidance issued to care home operators in the weeks before lockdown.
Her term in office directed key decisions such as discharging patients to care homes without testing them for COVID first.
In an email from March 2020 read out at the inquiry, one care home manager alerted industry body Scottish Care that “no care home has the appropriate equipment”.
Adding: “A low grade face mask, a plastic apron and a pair of latex gloves is not the appropriate equipment for barrier nursing a potential carrier transferred from a high risk area in the middle of a contagious pandemic by a care assistant with no training in high risk infectious diseases in a care home not equipped or designed for such.”
Under questioning Ms Freeman said it was inaccurate to say there was a lack of urgency or prioritisation of the issues posed by the care sector.
She said she had “two-fold” concern on moving people into care homes, including the urge to ensure patients who were ready to leave hospital were not kept in any longer, leading to additional risks of diminished muscle capabilities or contracting the virus.
“Against that was the risk of transferring people to care homes who had not been tested,” she said.
It led to ministers introducing social distancing in care homes, prohibiting communal meetings between residents and restricting external visits.
Ms Freeman said: “None of this was a risk-free choice. I understood very well the distress that might be caused by asking for physical distancing and communal associations and ending external visits.
“I understood that. But I also believed that to allow that to continue was to increase the risk of transmission into and within the care home.”
She said: “I would like to say that this point, I have said it before, but I want it read into the record here, that I was personally very concerned about our care sector, both our residential care sector and the care at home sector for adults and regret very much and will do for the rest of my life, any deaths that occurred there because of action that the Scottish Government didn’t take or did take but could have done better.”
Inquiry KC Jamie Walsh put it to Freeman that the Government’s response to the care home crisis had been “completely inadequate”.
“It was not as adequate as I would have wished it to be.” Ms Freeman replied