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Holyrood opposition parties demand immediate public inquiry into care home Covid-19 deaths

Jeane Freeman.
Jeane Freeman.

Opposition parties at Holyrood have united to demand the Scottish Government holds an immediate public inquiry into coronavirus deaths in care homes.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said such cases will be included when an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the pandemic takes place.

A Conservative motion rejecting this approach – arguing instead there should be an “immediate public inquiry to find out what happened in Scotland’s care homes during the course of the pandemic, which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 residents” – was passed by 64 votes to one, with 57 abstentions.

An amendment from Health Secretary Jeane Freeman saying a coronavirus public inquiry should be held “as quickly as is practicable, once the country is through the immediacy of dealing with the pandemic” was narrowly rejected, with MSPs voting by 60 votes to 62 against this.

The government defeat comes the week after figures from Public Health Scotland showed 113 patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were transferred from hospitals to care homes.

Number of Covid-19 positive patients moved into Tayside care homes ‘accelerated’ after Scottish Government ‘demand’

A further 3,061 people were discharged from hospitals and into homes without being tested at all.

Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron told MSPs that since the start of the pandemic there have been 2,048 deaths in care homes in Scotland.

He said: “This government’s failure to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable people is a scandal and I do not shrink from describing it in that way.

“It is clear to us and others in this chamber that only an immediate public inquiry will hold minsters to account and give grieving families the answers they deserve.”

Ms Freeman said the Scottish Government “wants and will welcome a public inquiry”, telling MSPs it could be “critical” in helping learn lessons from Covid-19.

But with the virus still surging, she said the focus must be on tackling the pandemic.

Ms Freeman said: “A public inquiry is undoubtedly important, no disagreement on that.

“But right now, in the middle of the pandemic, with all the resources in care homes and the NHS stretched severely, this is not the time to divert any resource to setting up an immediate public inquiry.”

Mr Cameron responded: “While we wait, the families of those who died in our care homes will get no answers and no closure.

“Now is not the time for delay, now is the time to take meaningful action, and the only way that can be fulfilled is for an urgent, judge-led public inquiry.”

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon backed him.

She said: “What has happened in our care homes this year has been a national scandal.

“Never again can we have a situation where people who are positive with Covid are being discharged into care homes, into an environment with other vulnerable people.

“No one is looking for a blame game to happen here but we need transparency.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said the scale of deaths in care homes means the case for a separate public inquiry is “clear”.

Including care home deaths in a more general inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 will only lead to delay, she said.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said what happened in care homes was a “tragedy”, adding the Scottish Government failed “some of our most vulnerable” citizens.

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