Crosslet House care home in Dumbarton, where around 20 deaths happened, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Pictures by Bill Heaney
By Democrat reporter
Fit and healthy – doctor put 78-year-old granny Margaret Gourlay on the controversial “do not resuscitate” list at Crosslet Care Home in Dumbarton.
The people of Scotland – and the residents of West Dunbartonshire in particular – must feel cruelly let down by both the SNP government and the SNP council here over the scandal surrounding their handling of the coronavirus pandemic at Crosslet House Care Home and right across the country.
The BBC Scotland Disclosure programme, edited by Craig Williams and investigated by former Clydebank Post journalist, Mark Daly, exposed the Nationalist government’s cack-handed handling of the virus outbreak.
And particularly their failure to warn the public about the deadly danger the virus posed to the whole population long before First Minister Nicola Sturgeon held her first daily media briefing on the matter in March.
Sturgeon promised not to allow politics as we know it to come into the debate – there would be no lying; she would be treating the public as grown-ups, and she and her right hand woman, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, plus the then Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, would be “very, very clear” about the information, they would be delivering daily, and are still delivering.
What the First Minister didn’t say was that they would be covering up the fact that there had been a coronavirus outbreak in the Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh in February during an international conference. This was kept quiet and covered up by the health authorities there.
Today, the FM, who promised truth and transparency from the outset, denied vehemently there had been any cover-up.
She asked why would there be and said it was simply a matter of “patient confidentiality” that the public were told nothing about this.
The daily Ministerial briefing consists of numbers for people carrying the virus; people who are hospitalised by it; people in ICU’s – intensive care units – and the number of people who have died.
The briefing also consists of strident warnings to people to stay in the house, not to meet up with people outside their family home and to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.
The FM insisted that the numbers she was giving out were irrelevant on occasion, and were no more than a conclusion based on information from a number of different sources which would later require adjustment.
Initially, they did not include figures for deaths in care homes or people who had died at home, just the people who had died in hospital.
Why then she ever agreed with her advisers to deliver these numbers is a mystery only she can explain.
Secret Scotland, as the SNP government has now become known, went into overdrive long before Sturgeon held her first media briefing in the press room in bowels of St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh.
Her initial message was along the lines that the Scottish Government was well prepared to deal with the emergency. It was not. The PPE scandals in hospitals and care homes are testimony to that.
Ms Sturgeon may dispute that just as she disagrees that many of her decisions – and she has insisted time and again that it is for her to make these decisions after being briefed by experts – have taken the country to where it is now.
Just where is that? The PM confirmed at today’s briefing that 13,763 people have tested positive for Covid-19, an increase of 136 from yesterday.
There are 1,618 patients in hospital with a suspected or confirmed case (up 165), with 81 being treated in intensive care (up one).
She explained the increase of people in hospital is entirely in suspected cases, while there has been a drop in confirmed cases of people in hospital with Covid-19.
And that 3,167 people have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment for the virus since 5 March.
A further 50 people who tested positive have died, taking the total to 1,912 deaths in Scotland by that measure.
Reporter Mark Daly and his journalist colleagues, Liam McDougall and Kevin Anderson, disclosed in their investigation a catalogue of government failings.
Remarkably, they revealed that more than an astonishing 2,000 coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if Scotland had locked down two weeks earlier than it did.
A team of epidemiological scientists at University of Edinburgh produced the findings, which featured in their investigation.
These findings suggest the death rate in Scotland could have been reduced by about 80 per cent with earlier action.
The experts stated unequivocally that the UK as a whole should have acted earlier.
There was footage of Boris Johnston bragging to the nation that everyone was safe and that he had been to visit coronavirus patients and even shaking hands with them.
As everyone now knows, the PM himself ended up contracting the virus and was near to death before he recovered.
Even when it was pointed out to them that there was a possibility that many of thousands of people would die from the disease, the Scottish government said its actions had been guided by the best and most up-to-date scientific advice.
The programme, which was broadcast last night and is now available on BBC i player , also revealed there were multiple transmissions of the virus in Edinburgh in February, well before the first confirmed case in Scotland,which was on Tayside on March 1, but these was kept hidden from the public.
The Scottish government is still insisting however that its actions had been guided by the best and most up-to-date scientific advice.
Nicola Sturgeon said she didn’t have the “20/20 hindsight” that allowed her to look back.
She had no intention of doing that since it would mean her taking her eye of the very important ball that was coming down the line towards her.
The FM has stressed frequently she believes this pandemic is far from over.
Mark Daly then went to Crosslet House Care Home in Dumbarton and interviewed Nicole Keenan, whose grandmother, 78-year-old Margaret Gourlay, has been resident in the relatively new, £10 million showpiece home since last November.
The home had been built as an austerity measure and was part of the health and social care budget cuts the council had been asked to make by the government.
There was an outcry in Dumbarton when it was sited “at the back of beyond” on an old estate on the periphery of a wood at the foot of the Long Crags to replace at least five council-run community-based homes. The intention was to include the old folk within the community where they could keep in close touch with relatives and friends who would have easy access to visit them.
Some people felt the old folk were being written off and ignored at the expense of others.
Nicole said her gran still had a good quality of life but, like all old people, she was slower than she used to be, but that was only to be expected — “She still gets up and about and goes for walks. She does need to take breaks though. She’s getting old. She gets her hair done and things like that. Her quality of life is still pretty good.”
Everything seemed alright, she said, until the family received a call from a concerned care worker at Crosslet House, who told them that a DNR (do not resuscitate) notice had been put on her file. The call was not from the management, but from a care worker whom they knew.
They were angry about this and got in touch with the home. The DNR notice had been put in place on her file without the family’s knowledge. They had not been asked about this. Neither had they been asked by telephone or lettered about it.
They hadn’t even been lettered retrospectively to see if we still wanted it. “The notice was put in place without our permission. We were angry. We felt they had done this without our consent because to them it did not really matter that much because these were old folk, “ said Nicole.
Nicole said the family were “angry” about what had happened. Her aunt telephoned the home and were told their family GP had arranged for that to happen. The family would have to speak to the doctor about it.
When the GP was asked for an explanation he said that this had happened early in the crisis – just the day after lockdown – when it was feared the NHS would be overwhelmed by the crisis.
Mrs Gourlay’s family remained unhappy about the whole business. They are still unhappy about what happened.
Cllr Jonathan McColl is nowhere to be seen. The council leader refuses to comment to The Democrat. His only appearance was to accuse Jackie Baillie the local MSP of lying for political gain when she expressed corncern about what was happening at the care home.
A Glasgow family told Mark Daly of their devastation after three grandparents died after contracting the virus at a birthday party.
The family say they believe the warnings about the coming pandemic should have been louder and clearer in early March.
One relative said: “If we knew then what we know now, we wouldn’t have had the party. It wouldn’t have happened. And it’s these things that keep you up at night.”
It was then revealed in the programme how the virus had been brought to Scotland. An outbreak began on 26 and 27 of February at a conference for the sportswear giant Nike. More than 70 employees from all over the world attended the conference at the Hilton Carlton Hotel.
One of the delegates from abroad brought the virus into Edinburgh and infected many of their fellow Nike employees, who then returned to their own countries.
At least 25 people linked to this one event are confirmed to have been infected – eight of them resident in Scotland.
How 25 people scattered throughout the world could be worried about their identities being revealed is hard to believe.
However, Nicola Sturgeon told reporters at lunchtime today that she was content with the way this matter was dealt with.
Health authorities in Scotland were aware of this potential outbreak by 2 March, but the public were not told about it. Nike closed many of its stores around the UK and worldwide for deep cleans.
Nike told the BBC it instigated enhanced measures, including contact tracing and increased cleaning and disinfection processes in their stores and offices, and that all its staff had now recovered.
It said those at increased risk were identified, their close contacts were traced and public health authorities were satisfied there was no further infection risk.
But the BBC spoke to one guest who had been staying at the hotel during the conference, who said he had been in close contact with numerous Nike delegates.
However, he said had not been contact traced by anyone from the Scottish health service to tell him about the risk.
The FM told reporters at lunchtime today that she was content with the way the matter was dealt with by her public health officials.
But, despite knowing the virus had been in Scotland since at least late February, the Scottish government did not ban mass gatherings until 16 March, or go into lockdown until 23 March – the same day as the restrictions were announced by the UK government.
Fortunately the Celtic V Rangers Old Firm game in Glasgow was called off at the eleventh hour.
Professors Sridhar and Glover, who expressed puzzlement and dismay that the government failed to act sooner.
Scotland’s own advisory panel – featuring Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of public health at Edinburgh University – was not set up until two days after the lockdown was introduced.
Prof Sridhar said there had “definitely” been more than enough information about the coming pandemic for action to have been taken much sooner across the UK.
She said: “We should have been acting by mid-February. We could see that this was not a virus to be easily contained.”
Professor Dame Anne Glover, who is president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the former chief scientific advisor to the Scottish government, said: “Mistakes have been made and that has resulted in lives being lost.”
A team of epidemiological scientists at the University of Edinburgh to model what might have happened to Scotland’s death rates if we had locked down sooner.
Professor Rowland Kao and his team had developed a model which simulated the epidemiological behaviour of the Scottish population.
It was based on figures which were published by the National Records of Scotland last week, which said a total of 2,795 people had died with a confirmed or suspected case of the virus.
Prof Kao ran simulations to see what would have happened to the spread of the virus if Scotland had locked down on 9 March.
Prof Kao said: “The question we’re addressing here is what would have happened if rather than having lockdown on around 23 March, we’d done it about two weeks earlier.
“While… there’s quite a bit of uncertainty in what the final outcome will be, all those [projections] are now substantially below what actually happened.”
How many lives then did he believe could have been saved by an early lockdown?
National Records of Scotland/University of Edinburgh said the model, while allowing for uncertainty, predicted the death toll would have been around 577 – about 80% lower than the actual total.
He added: “What that indicates to you is that these measures could easily have taken effect and reduced those death rates.”
Deputy first minister John Swinney responded to the study’s findings. He said: “I think what that figure represents is the retrospective application of a model to an earlier date from when lockdown started, so I don’t think the conclusion is particularly surprising, but what we have to look at is the scientific advice that was available to us at the time.”
Mr Swinney said the Scottish government acted “promptly and swiftly” on the basis of the scientific advice available and in some respects, such as the ban on large gatherings, was ahead of this advice.”