VIRUS: BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK ON FIRST MINISTER’S PRESS CONFERENCE

Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Jeane Freeman.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon must be raging at her advisers for not ensuring she had a new set of accurate figures which convey the actual impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland.

However, if the press and public want accurate figures, they will have to wait until tomorrow to have numbers which will include not just confirmed but presumed deaths – where doctors have referenced the virus on death certificates.

Since the anticipated number of deaths from the virus was initially estimated at hundreds if not thousands then one would have expected arrangements would have been put in place from the outset to record them.

Important intimations given to the media by Ms Sturgeon, included the temporary estimate of the number of deaths. This is expected to be much higher when the new figures are put together.

Other issues dealt with by the FM include:

  • 4,229 people have now tested positive, up by 268 from yesterday.
  • 1,751 patients are in hospital with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, including 199 in intensive care. There are currently 321 unoccupied beds in ICU.
  • £5.3m has been announced for community pharmacies, which are to remain over over the Easter weekend.
  • The chief nursing officer said NHS Louisa Jordan, the new temporary hospital on Clydeside, is “truly beginning to take shape”.
  • Health boards are being reminded to prioritise care workers as well as NHS staff for testing, following the death of a care worker at the weekend.

The first minister reiterated the number of deaths currently includes those from laboratory confirmed cases of Covid-19.

From tomorrow, the numbers will include not just confirmed but presumed deaths, where doctors have referenced the virus on death certificates.

These will include the eight deaths at Castleview Care Home in Dumbarton. It was initially reported that eleven old persons had died there.

In addition, a new model will provide the government with a greater understanding on the spread of the virus, when we can expect to hit the peak and therefore when we can get closer to normality, she added.

Asked what would happen if she herself developed symptoms of Covid-19, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replies that she is taking as many precautions as she reasonably can.

She explained that she would continue to work for as long as was “medically appropriate”.

“Of course, we have continuity arrangements in place,” she adds. “I won’t go into full detail.

“In the first instance, if I was ill, then it would be the deputy first minister [John Swinney] who stepped in.”

Asked about capacity in intensive care, the first minister insists there is “plenty spare capacity” at the present time.

The health secretary, Jeane Freeman, said there are 585 ICU beds, all of which either have ventilators or ventilator capacity.

And there are currently 264 patients in ICU, for both Covid-19 and other conditions, leaving 321 unoccupied beds.

Ms Sturgeon added that the aim is to have 3,000 beds dedicated to the coronavirus response.

With 1,751 patients in hospital now, there is still plenty of capacity in both ICU and general wards, and the beds from NHS Louisa Jordan will be in addition to this.

Issues with PPE supplies, distribution and training have come to the fore following the death of Dumbarton home care workers Catherine Sweeney.

On the question of PPE, the first minister said: “I recognise the importance of this issue for everybody who is working in a frontline capacity.”

There are three different issues:

  • Supply– “We have healthy supplies but they are under pressure, the global supply chain is under pressure”.
  • Distribution– “We have taken steps to streamline and speed up the process. There is an email hotline to raise concerns.”
  • Training– “New guidelines were issued last week by Health Protection Scotland and it is important to disseminate that properly through the workforce.”

The First Minister fielded two questions from BBC Scotland’s health correspondent Lisa Summer, who asked for information on the testing of care workers.

And whether the army would be deployed to deliver PPE supplies to the sector.

Ms Sturgeon said logistics support was already being provided by the army and that the testing of carers was under way and an update would be made “in due course” on the precise numbers.

Prioritisation in testing already includes care workers but “we will remind health boards of this”, she added.

Catherine Sweeney, Castleview Care Home and Nicola Sturgeon.

Many pharmacies will “where possible” stay open over Easter weekend.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman praises community pharmacy teams at this time, and stated they were a central part of healthcare services.

An initial package of £5.3 million to meet some of the costs of responding to Covid-19 has been agreed, she explained to the assembled reporters.

This would cover the costs of equipment, adaptations being made, staffing cover and the extension of the minor ailments services.

Professor Fiona McQueen, the Chief Nursing Officer, praised student nurses, who are stepping into the front line during this crisis.

She hailed an “amazing response” from third and fourth-year students and explained that more than 2,000 have been deployed this week, with more to come – “It is a real thrill for me to see their compassion and professionalism.”

Meanwhile, the First Minister has sent her best wishes to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is in intensive care in hospital after his coronavirus symptoms worsened.

And readers are invited to contribute here to a Justgiving page to help the family of homecare worker Catherine Sweeney:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/catherine-sweeneywdc?utm_term=nNejNgjE5

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