Nicola Sturgeon has been attacked over the lack of testing for those looking after the most vulnerable, as Covid-19 care home deaths outstripped those in hospital.
At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon came under fire from the Conservatives and Labour for failing to test enough care home staff.
During a session dominated by the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon also revealed she was “hugely sympathetic” to the idea of establishing a National Care Service.
The first minister gave her strongest signal yet that she favours nationalising the care system, as new figures showed there have now been more coronavirus-related deaths in care homes than in hospitals north of the border.
National Records of Scotland (NRS) data showed that up until May 31 there had been 1,818 Covid-19 deaths in care homes, compared with 1,815 hospital fatalities. Up to May 17, there had also been a further 154 deaths in hospital of people who had been resident in care homes.
Tory leader Jackson Carlaw claimed the government was letting care homes down, arguing that not enough staff were being tested despite there being the capacity to do so.
“There are 50,000 care home workers in Scotland, if they were being routinely tested every week there would be a minimum of 7,000 tests a day,
“Yet yesterday the total number of tests done for all of Scotland was fewer than 5,000 and the day before that it was fewer than 3,000. It doesn’t add up.”
Mr Carlaw said the “tragedy” was that Scotland had the capacity to test.
“Indeed, if you had used that capacity effectively since the end of April, you could have tested all the residents and staff at care homes twice.
“Instead capacity is being squandered and care home workers and residents, who have already endured the horror of this crisis, are being let down all over again.”
Mr Carlaw gave the example of private care home operator Renaissance Care, saying that of 1,150 staff, only 649 had been tested, the equivalent of 56%
Testing that had been carried out on the company’s workers was “not on the repeated basis” that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman promised on May 18.
Mr Carlaw added it was “deeply worrying” 7% of workers who were tested had been found to have Covid-19, despite having had no symptoms of the virus.
Labour leader Richard Leonard raised the case of a care worker who had asked about a test with her employer and NHS Lanarkshire, but had been rejected.
The health board had told Mr Leonard that it was “working through the operational implications” of the testing policy.
Mr Leonard said the worker was “concerned about her family and for the vulnerable people that she cares for”.
In her reply Ms Sturgeon said: “This is a programme that is under way and progressing.”
She added that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman will outline the details of the delivery of regular testing to care home staff, but did not give a timeframe.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie claimed only 1% of the 19,000 Scots thought to have the virus had been tested since the government’s new strategy to combat Covid-19 was rolled out last week.
Mr Rennie produced the figure in relation to the new Test and Protect scheme, which will see contacts of those with the disease tracked down and told to self-isolate.
Ms Sturgeon said more data would not be available about the scheme until next week, but she was confident it was “suppressing and hopefully eradicating” the disease.
Sturgeon ‘hugely sympathetic’ to National Care Service
SNP MSP Angela Constance asked the first minister about the prospects of setting up a National Care Service, after politicians from three different parties had spoken in favour of it during a Holyrood debate this week.
Ms Constance said the crisis had shown there was a need to “refocus on not-for-profit care”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I have got huge sympathy with this,” adding it was “an example of how we need to be prepared to rethink old ways of doing things and contemplate potentially new and potentially better ways of doing things.”
The first minister added: “I hope we may see some cross-party willingness to look at the idea of a National Care Service.
“There are huge complexities and challenges associated with that and none of us should underplay that. But there will be a whole range of ways in which we want to rethink how we have done things in the past. I’m very happy, and indeed very keen and anxious, to engage in more detail on this and other similar debates in the future.”
Ms Sturgeon said dealing with the crisis was her “main focus” right now, but it offered the chance to do things differently.
“That’s an opportunity I think we should grasp with both hands,” the first minister added.