‘Lives could have been saved’ if the First Minister had listened to pandemic warnings
“Lives could have been saved” had the First Minister listened to warnings about the threat to social care in a pandemic, interim Labour leader Jackie Baillie has claimed, asking whether it was “negligence or incompetence” that had caused her not to take action.
At First Minister’s Questions Baillie and Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood Ruth Davidson both challenged Nicola Sturgeon on the findings of a report by Audit Scotland, published today, which suggests the Scottish Government “could have been better prepared” for a pandemic.
The report found that the Scottish Government had not implemented all the recommendations of three pandemic preparedness exercises, including measures to ensure there was access to enough PPE and to address social care capacity.
Davidson said: “Throughout this pandemic, the First Minister has sought to build a reputation on how she has handled this virus, but the truth is her government was less prepared than it should have been and it’s set out in black and white in today’s Audit Scotland report.”
She asked why the Scottish Government had not acted on previous recommendations.
The questions focused in particular on guidance for care providers on dealing with a pandemic and the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Scottish Government had been told in 2018 to update guidance for care homes on dealing with a flu pandemic, but that hadn’t been published by the time COVID hit Scotland in March 2020.
There have also been issues with the supply of PPE, particularly in the early months of the pandemic.
The First Minister pointed out that PPE had never run out in Scotland, but Davidson referred to reports by nurses of having to re-use single use PPE, while Baillie said that while although there were stockpiles, they were “inadequate and they were also well out of date”.
But Sturgeon said lessons had been learned from earlier pandemics.
“It is because we did learn lessons from the swine flu pandemic we had in 2009 and the exercises that were done that we had a stockpile of PPE at the start of this pandemic, and I said earlier on, that is why we never once ran out of PPE,” she said.
Sturgeon accepted that mistakes had been made, but said the key failing, which was “perhaps one that’s not captured fully in the Audit Scotland report”, was that they had found themselves dealing with a coronavirus pandemic rather than a flu pandemic and they should have been looking at the responses to SARS pandemics rather than to flu pandemics.
She said: “Has everything gone as we would have wanted? No. We have made mistakes. We have done things that had we had the knowledge we have now then, we would have done differently, and we learn from those as we go.”
Baillie responded: “The whole point of this is not learn after the event, but actually learn beforehand so we put in measures to prevent the scale of death that we have witnessed.”