AS THE Scottish Government gears up for its long-awaited inquiry into Covid-related care home deaths, the emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder of why we need transparency over events of the past to avoid unnecessary outbreaks in the future.
It should not, however, take a belated inquiry to allow lessons to be learnt. Yes, hindsight is wonderful. We know far more about protecting care home residents from Covid now than we did when the first wave wreaked havoc in spring 2020. Then again, it felt at the time – and often still feels – that government was slow with assimilating the facts about stemming the spread of Covid and responding to them effectively.
Now we know that Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary at the time, considers it a source of personal regret that “we [the Scottish government] didn’t pay enough attention to understanding early on the situation in care homes”, as reported in The Times on December 4.
I welcome her candour and I hope we will hear more of it during the inquiry. However, “inattention” does not do justice to ministers’ repeated failure to listen to the concern of care home operators in the moment.
From the point at which we saw hospital patients being discharged into care homes without Covid tests, ministers preferred not to listen to our alarm until it was too late.
Similarly, when warned that care homes needed support from government to implement regular weekly testing for staff, ministers refused to listen for too long. This remained the case even when it was clear that carers had become, through no fault of their own, the main access point for the disease into care residences.
A huge problem then, was the gap between what we knew about the spread of Covid and the capacity of ministers to take the action necessary to protect care homes.
A report by Public Health Scotland on Covid deaths in care home settings up to February 2021 was not published as scheduled because of the Holyrood elections in May. Opposition MSPs allege that this was a result of ministerial pressure and have demanded the report’s release.
If this is true it casts into doubt the extent to which the Scottish Government is prepared to be scrutinised, through an inquiry, for any mistakes made during the pandemic.
It is all very well for Freeman to admit problems. But how are we to trust her successor to follow suit if politics has been allowed to come before the truth?