VIRUS:FREEMAN TAKES A BIFFING AT PRESS BRIEFING

Nine more deaths of Covid-19 patients in Scotland and sick pay assurances

Professor Jason Leitch and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

By Bill Heaney

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman started the Sunday media briefing by outlining details of the death payment and sick pay boost for care staff, which had been announced earlier in the day.

She said that although several employers already offer contracts to social care workers which are broadly in line with the Scottish government’s fair work principles, it was clear that others do not.

Ms Freeman said: “Even more than usually is the case, that cannot be justified. It is not acceptable for any social care worker to be faced with the possible situation of testing positive for the virus knowing that their weekly income will reduce only to the level of statutory sick pay.”

Ms Freeman also said it was “not satisfactory” either that they should have no cover for death in service.

The Scottish government’s sick pay fund would ensure that care workers who test positive will receive above the statutory sick pay level.

And she underscored the fact that the death in service benefit would see a one-off payment of £60.000 paid to a named survivor.

The Health Secretary said: “This Scottish government will provide fair benefits to social care workers.”

The latest figures published by the Scottish government reveal that 15,101 people have tested positive for Covid-19, an increase of 60 from yesterday.

There were 1,329 people in hospital last night, with 845 confirmed cases (an increase of four), and 484 suspected cases (up 20), an overall increase of 24.

There are 33 confirmed cases being treated in intensive care (down three), with another 11 with suspected Covid-19 in intensive care (also down three).

A further nine people who tested positive have died, taking the total in Scotland, by that measure, to 2,270 deaths.

A total of 3,560 people have been discharged from hospital after receiving treatment for the virus since 5 March.

Reporters had obviously been briefed by their news editors to look for scalps at today’s meeting between politicians and the media.

Michael Blackley, from the Daily Mail, asked how many of the 921 patients discharged from hospitals to care homes in March had been tested for Covid-19, how many were subsequently found to have symptoms and if any went to care homes with a live outbreak.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said that data is held by Public Health Scotland but in more than one format.

“They are working right now to get the detailed answers to those questions that are publishable and they are confident that are accurate,” she added unconvincingly.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the pandemic has “shone a light” on the need to look at the future of social care.

BBC Scotland’s Aileen Clarke asked whether the courts and police should get involved with care homes and if a full-scale review is needed.

Ms Freeman said the best quality of care in future had to be ensured – “I do believe that is something we need to look to,” she said.

Simon Johnson from the Daily Telegraph asks if Boris Johnston’s special adviser Dominic Cummings should resign, in the wake of claims the prime minister’s chief aide broke lockdown rules.

Ms Freeman says: “What happens about any individual working for the UK government is entirely a matter for them.”

She says her worry is the message becomes confused and stresses: “You have achieved so much. Please remember what the guidance is here in Scotland.”

Tom Magner, a radio reporter, asked what steps – informed by the current Covid-19 situation – are being taken to ensure joined-up social care is at the cutting edge of the Scottish government’s exit strategy.

Jeane Freeman replied that “it really does matter” to her that all elderly citizens receive the respect, care and maximum independence they wish, regardless of whether they live at home, in a care home, or in a hospital for a limited period.

The health secretary said the government had increased the level of NHS clinical support and expertise available to all care homes, “the majority of whom do this job very well”.

“Some need additional help and support and I don’t foresee that going away any time soon,” said Ms Freeman, who believes there needs to be a “wider conversation” about the “landscape of care provision”.

“I don’t have a magic answer for that, but I do believe it is a conversation that has to happen,” she added.

Scotland’s economy secretary Fiona Hyslop earlier insisted the government’s route map out of lockdown is “plain as day” on when businesses can re-open.

Fiona Hyslop said ministers would “not risk a second wave” of the coronavirus in their plan to ease measures.

She said Nicola Sturgeon had confirmed a four-phase plan out of lockdown was due to start from 28 May.

This statement however had come in the wake of tourism and trade bodies’ criticism of the plan, warning some businesses could be left behind.

There is fierce concern in the country about the future of the National Trust for Scotland and the many sites and properties for which it is responsible.

The Scottish government has set up a task force to help the National Trust for Scotland avoid making more than half of its 751 employees redundant because of loss of income during the lockdown.

The charity, which is responsible for the upkeep of Scotland’s natural, built and cultural heritage, says 429 permanent posts are at risk.

Asked on Politics Scotland about a threat to deny Scottish government money to the trust if it carries through with the job losses, Economy and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “We want to support the National Trust for Scotland, but they’ve got to support their staff and that means using the extension of the furlough scheme.

“They have complex issues and I’ve put a team together to work with them to try to see if we can come to some solution.”

Ms Hyslop suggested that withdrawing the threat to jobs would help the trust in its appeal for public funding.

Ryan Mair, from STV, asked the Health Secretary to respond to Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s suggestion that it was irresponsible to send 921 untested hospital patients into care homes in March.

Jeane Freeman said advice received in early March from the government scientific group SAGE suggested that 80% of the population would be affected and that 4% of that number would require hospitalisation.

She added: “That meant that, at that point, we rightly focused a huge amount of effort into re-prioritising what the NHS was doing in order to ensure that we would not be overwhelmed if that level of hospitalisation occurred, as was seen in other parts of Europe.

“If I had known everything I know now then we may have made different decisions,” said Ms Freeman.

However, she stressed that patients “were discharged because they were clinically well”.

Meanwhile, Fiona McQueen, Scotland’s chief nursing officer, paid tribute to the “outstanding dedication and professionalism” of Scotland’s clinicians – nurses, midwives, pharmacists and doctors – during the coronavirus pandemic.

As well as workers who support people with learning disabilities, and nurses who work in prisons, she wanted to shine a light on another group of “hidden workers” integral to the efficient running of hospitals and health centres.

She thanked the more than 5,000 cleaners, the kitchen staff producing 16 million meals a year, the 3,000 porters helping to transport hospital patients and the laundry staff who launder 70 million items a year.

Ms McQueen also paid tributes to the plumbers, electricians and engineers who are working to keep Scotland’s hospitals clean and safe.

Her colleague, Jason Leitch, the National clinical director, reported that 326 pharmacists and 226 pharmacy technicians have returned to the register to offer their services during the pandemic.

He paid tribute to the 1,258 community pharmacies that had remained open throughout to play “a critical role in slowing the spread of the virus”.

Professor Leitch said: “Community pharmacy teams have stepped up by extending the minor ailments services, providing advice, treatment or referral for every-day conditions, including the symptoms of Covid-19 to high risk groups such as the elderly, children and those who cannot afford to self-care.”

Prof Leitch urged the public to “be kind if you have to wait a little bit longer” in queues in chemist shops to be served.

Ms Freeman continued by reminding people of what they should do if they are self-isolating, or whether they have concerns over vulnerable people who are with them.

“Self-isolation is not the same as lockdown,” she pointed out. “If you are self-isolating, you should not go out for exercise, or go to the shops, or help others. You should not leave the house for any reason.”

“I can’t emphasise enough how important self-isolation is in our efforts to tackle the virus,” she added.

Scott Macnab, from The Scotsman, said there have been suggestions that talk of vaccines or treatments for Covid-19 may be almost academic as the virus could effectively be wiped out in communities if the rate of infection continues to drop at the current rate, and wonders if the Scottish government is considering that as part of its response.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said however that, looking at the research, not enough is known about the virus to think that, if it is fully suppressed, we wouldn’t need those things – “What we do know is that this virus is not going away.”

National clinical director Prof Jason Leitch added: “The global scientific consensus is that the virus is not going away. We don’t know how the virus is going to behave into the future – we can’t know.

“There are examples of communities where they have got the transmission so low that they appear to be almost virus free – the Faroe Islands, some of the Channel Islands. These are very small, isolated communities and they have no travel in or out right now.”

People should phone the national helpline on 0800-111-4000 if they are unsure what to do.

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