First Minister Nicola Sturgeon answers her critics

Pictures of Nicola Sturgeon by Jeff Mitchell (on the swings), Bernie Heaney and Bill Heaney.

By Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister

I take responsibility for all aspects of the Government’s response [to allegations of failure over care homes]. Although people can and should scrutinise and, where necessary, criticise—that is perfectly legitimate—I do not think that even my sternest critic could say that I have not been standing up, day in and day out, taking responsibility for the Government’s handling of this virus epidemic.

I make this point on the rate of deaths in care homes in Scotland compared with that in other parts of the UK. A study that was published by academics at the London School of Economics suggests that the real care home death toll in England and Wales is double what the official figures show.

This is not some kind of competition; any death toll in care homes or anywhere else is too high, and all of us are working to get the figures down. However, I am confident that the figures that we are publishing in Scotland are accurate. I am not sure that that is the case elsewhere in the UK right now, although it is not for me to speak to those figures.

This is all so tragic, but the percentages of overall deaths that are happening in care homes in Scotland look to be, unfortunately, in line with those in many other countries that are reporting the figures.

That comes back to two points. First, the virus hits older people particularly hard. The vast majority of deaths are in the older population. That applies not only to care homes but overall. Secondly, managing and tackling the virus in care homes is the biggest part of the big responsibility that Government, health protection teams, care home providers and all of us bear in tackling the virus.

Every single day that we deal with the virus, ensuring that we are doing everything possible to do that will be my absolute focus.

Speaking not as First Minister but as a human being, I deeply regret every single death from this virus. I think that all of us are in that position. The very first time that I stood in this chamber to talk about what we were dealing with, I said that mistakes would be made.

I said that I would make mistakes and that the Government would make mistakes, and I am sure that that is the case.

We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. Not a day goes by—probably not an hour goes by right now—when I do not question myself and agonise over the decisions that we are taking, in order to ensure that we learn as we go and that we get decisions as right as possible.

I suspect and hope that everybody in a leadership position the world over is going through that same process, as I will continue to do.

We have dramatically increased our testing capacity and we are increasing the number of tests that are being done. However, it is important to understand that, right now, we are in a phase in which testing is clinically driven.

The tests are not pleasant, particularly for older people. They are invasive, and therefore there needs to be a degree of clinical judgment about when a test is appropriate and when it is not. The categories that are being tested now are clinically driven.

We are also in the process—as many countries are—of moving into the test, trace, isolate phase, in which the approach to testing is different. The capacity that we are building now is to prepare for that, and the approach to testing then becomes completely different.

My overriding focus is to protect the population of this country as best I can against what we know is a potentially deadly virus, and to err on the side of caution and make decisions in a very careful and considered way to ensure that we reduce, as far as possible, the number of people who die from this virus—and certainly the number who die unnecessarily.

That is and will absolutely continue to be my focus every waking moment right now.

  • Nicola Sturgeon was speaking to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

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