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Care home testing could have been handled differently, says Health Secretary

© Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA WireHealth Secretary Jeane Freeman
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

Jeane Freeman has said that coronavirus testing around care homes would have been handled differently with the benefit of hindsight.

The Health Secretary, who has announced that she won’t be standing in May’s Holyrood elections, has come under fire for the handling of the crisis, which has seen 46% of Covid-registered deaths occur in care homes.

On Sunday, we published a leaked letter from Ms Freeman which revealed the pressure put on hospitals to send elderly patients into care homes in the weeks before and after lockdown.

In the letter to health boards, dated April 10, the Health Secretary praises them for surpassing “challenging” targets as the NHS prepared for an onslaught of Covid patients.

However, hundreds of patients were sent into care homes untested and the Scottish Government has come under sustained pressure since we revealed dozens were transferred into homes despite testing positive.

Critics of the policy described it as “putting a match to tinder” in homes where almost 2,000 residents were to die in the pandemic.

In an interview on Tuesday with the Daily Record, Ms Freeman said: “If I knew then what I know now, we would have been testing people earlier than April when we started it.

“Testing was happening but it was not a requirement, as it is now, that any patient who has been in hospital for Covid has to give two negative tests before they are discharged and other admissions have to give one negative test.

“In the early days, there was a view that people without symptoms probably weren’t infectious.

“The advice we got at the time is the advice we made the best decision we could on. If we were doing it all again, I would also be introducing the testing of care home workers from the outset.

“I don’t believe the evidence existed back in March that would have led us to take that view then.”

Ms Freeman has announced she would not be standing for re-election in May.

She told her constituency association on Monday evening that now was the right time to step aside.

She said: “After very careful thought, I have decided not to stand for re-selection as the SNP candidate for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.

“It has been a real privilege and pleasure to represent the Ayrshire I grew up in and which, in so many ways, made me who I am today.

“I have also been privileged to hold two ministerial offices in the Scottish Government in that time, initially charged with setting up Scotland’s first social security service and now as Cabinet Secretary for Health.

“In Government and as a local MSP for a great constituency, I have learned a great deal and have had the opportunity to work with very many talented, committed and compassionate people.

“I will be 67 later this year and 72 by the end of the next Parliamentary term, and while I have a great deal of energy left and more I want to do, I think it is the right time for me to stand aside and let another take forward the work as an MSP for this constituency.”

She continued: “Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley is a beautiful part of our country and it is full of talented, enterprising and hard-working people. It will be an honour for whoever wins the constituency seat, as it has been for me.

“I have been hugely supported by SNP members in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and I am grateful to them all.

“I owe a particular debt to my hardworking and excellent constituency staff, Tracy, Paul and Jayde, without whom I literally couldn’t have done the job.

“I remain even firmer in my conviction that the right future for the people of this constituency and of Scotland is one where we have all the democratic and decision-making powers of a normal country.

“Securing independence by securing the right of people in Scotland to choose their own future will allow us to build on the progressive work of the SNP government since 2007 and fulfil the potential of this place and this country to build the prosperous, inclusive and progressive future we want for all of us and for future generations.

“In the months ahead I will continue my focus on the work we need to do as a country to meet the challenges facing us all in dealing with Covid-19, supporting our NHS and social care workers, and in remobilising our NHS and social care services to the greatest extent possible.”