The battle to beat coronavirus descended into a political bun fight tonight, as nationalist politicians raged against a decision to hand Westminster the power to procure ventilators and testing kits.
Under the devolved settlement, each nation of the UK is responsible for its own healthcare system and makes decisions independently of each other. However, it was announced earlier in the day that NHS England would be taking the lead on procuring and distributing kit.
The move came after it emerged NHS boards across the UK were competing against each other to buy equipment.
The decision has received a mixed response, with some politicians raising concerns that England could end up being prioritised.
“If Scotland is to be shackled to anybody, the last people we should be shackled to is London.”
Adam Price, leader of Welsh nationalists Paid Cymru, said: “How can we have any confidence in a system whereby we don’t have any independent means of securing our needs in Wales if we’re just told to trust the UK government to provide us without any ability to intervene ourselves?
“That certainly doesn’t give me the confidence that Wales’ needs will be best served.”
Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said the decision to hand procurement powers to London was “a mistake”.
He added: “The UK has one of the lowest testing rates going. Norway, which is a similar size to Scotland, is testing at five and a half times the rate and has a lower death rate.
“If Scotland is to be shackled to anybody, the last people we should be shackled to is London.
“We should have the means and the ways of unshackling ourselves and do what Norway does.”
North-east MP Andrew Bowie rejected the assessment, saying it was “very sensible” for the UK to be taking a joined-up approach.
The Tory party vice-chairman said: “We had four different health boards looking for the same resources. It’s only right that the UK has come together and it’s for the benefit of everyone.
“I don’t think people in Aberdeenshire or the Western Isles for that matter care who is in charge of sourcing equipment, as long as it gets to people and is deployed as soon as possible.”
The Scottish Government was approached for comment.
We had four different health boards looking for the same resources. It’s only right that the UK has come together and it’s for the benefit of everyone.”
The row came as a further 563 patients with coronavirus died in the UK, taking the total number of deaths in hospitals to 2,352.
The Department of Health said 29,474 people have tested positive for the virus, up 4,324 since Tuesday.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, told a daily coronavirus briefing in Downing Street that the UK was not in “as severe” a position as Spain, the US or Italy, but added there was “no reason to be complacent”.
She said: “It’s still too early to say whether the plateau of hospital admissions has ended but we’ve now seen three days of increases in a row and again, we need to protect the NHS, and the best way to do that is to stay at home, to avoid catching the disease yourself and obviously avoid giving it to anyone else.”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma, appearing alongside Dr Doyle, said that increasing testing capacity for the whole of the UK was “absolutely the Government’s top priority”.
He said: “We’re now at 10,000 tests a day, we’re rolling out additional networks of labs and testing sites.
“In terms of protective equipment, over the last two weeks 390 million products have been distributed.
“And of course we will continue to do more and work to make sure that protective equipment is available.”
Mr Sharma went on to say that it was”completely unacceptable” for banks to refuse loans to businesses, amid reports many firms have been unable to receive support.
He said: “Just as the taxpayer stepped in to help the banks back in 2008, we will work with the banks to do everything they can to repay that favour and support the businesses and people of the UK in their time of need.”