A bereaved son has described claims Jeane Freeman was “not aware” of major issues facing care homes in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic as “damning but sadly, expected”.
Alan Wightman, whose 88-year-old mother Helen died of Covid-19 in Scoonie House in Leven in May, said he had long suspected care homes were at the end of the line during the initial decision-making process.
Mr Wightman, from Forfar, was reacting to comments by NHS Fife employee director Wilma Brown, who told Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee the health secretary often seemed not informed about shortages in PPE, testing capacity and the concerns around care home guidance when Covid-19 hit.
“I thinks she’s as good as what she’s told but I don’t think she was always told everything that was going on,” she said.
Her claim has been denied by the Scottish Government.
Mr Wightman is a member of the Covid-19 Families for Justice group, which is campaigning for a rapid, UK-level independent public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
He said the issues raised by Ms Brown highlighted some of the information being sought.
“We have long suspected care homes were at the end of the line in terms of consideration. Protecting the NHS was number one in the priority list and even that was poorly managed.
“To hear the employee director of NHS Fife saying to the Westminster Scottish affairs committee that she felt Jeane Freeman to be ill-informed of the situation in care homes is as damning as it is, sadly, expected.
“Here, for the first time that I’m aware of, we have someone in a position of authority saying how bad the situation was.
“One can only imagine what else might be flushed out by a public inquiry.”
Mr Wightman said a public airing would ensure robust and rapid improvements to the system, which are “necessary to avoid further unnecessary deaths in a second wave”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed her commitment to holding a public inquiry but has not said when it will take place.
The Scottish Government insisted all ministers were kept well informed throughout the pandemic.
“In particular the health secretary remained in constant communication with Unison, the RCN, the BMA and Scottish Care to monitor the provision of PPE and address problems as they arose,” said a spokesman.
Meanwhile, Ms Freeman has ordered a review of the decisions taken with regards to care homes and said the initial guidance issued had been updated in the months since the virus outbreak.
She said primary care support had been strengthened and testing increased.