Sturgeon dragged her feet despite early warning of Covid-19 from Jackie Baillie

Special report by Bill Heaney

Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond, has said that the report cited by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith, which showed Covid-19 being present in Scotland since February, highlights how unprepared Scotland was in the face of the pandemic.

The genomic report (meaning a report which examines when and how certain genes and genetic information interacted, contributing to the spread of Covid-19) highlighted that the initial spread within Scotland was due to a series of community transmissions which were left undetected.

Jackie Baillie says this shows that initial efforts to track and trace did not work.

The report also shows that significant failures occurred in tracking and reducing the spread of the virus from travellers arriving into Scotland from abroad.

The report said that there was “a lack of robust measures to manage infected travellers from emerging pandemic hotspots [which] may have accelerated the course of the outbreak in Scotland and the UK as a whole.”

Jackie Baillie was the first MSP to raise concerns in the Scottish Parliament regarding the extent to which Scotland was prepared to fight this virus.

On 20 February, Jackie Baillie had an exchange with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s questions when she raised concerns regarding the extent to which NHS Scotland was prepared for a Covid-19 outbreak.

The First Minister confirmed that the health service was well equipped and that the situation was under control.

Ms Baillie said she was contacted by many local GPs at the beginning of March who feared that they were seeing patients who were presenting symptoms and that there was a significant lack of PPE.

The MSP raised the concerns of these GPs in the Scottish Parliament with the First Minister on 12 March and urged her to start lockdown immediately.

Jackie Baillie MSP said today: “This report is telling us what GPs and other healthcare professionals were telling us months ago – that Scotland was severely under-prepared to fight this virus and that only urgent and immediate action would help mitigate a significant loss of life.

“Unfortunately, no effort was made to listen to these frontline experts and as a result Scotland has seen some of the highest per capita death rates out of all the affected countries.

“Our health and social care sector was shockingly ill-prepared to deal with Covid-19 and the time that it took to eventually ensure that staff had proper protection was utterly unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government seems to have been one step behind the virus from the very beginning and its’ failure to act has seen our economy crash and our health service come under severe pressure.

“Serious questions need to be asked in the coming weeks and months as we begin to rebuild and recover and thousands of people come to terms with the impact on their lives.”

Since there will be challenges to what Jackie Baillie has said today, possibly even similar to the last tirade launched by Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration on West Dunbartonshire Council, when she raised the issue of care homes, the official notes of the exchange in the Scottish Parliament on February 20 are here:

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab):  To ask the First Minster what action the Scottish Government is taking to prepare the national health service to deal with the coronavirus. (S5F03958)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon): As it stands, today there are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Scotland. However, it is clearly prudent to assume that that will change in the days and weeks ahead. Our NHS is well prepared to respond to disease outbreaks, and has in place tried and tested measures for managing public health incidents of this type.  Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Government continue to work closely with boards on their preparedness for managing potential cases. Health Protection Scotland has already produced specific guidance on investigation and initial management of suspected cases, which has been communicated to boards via a letter from the chief medical officer [Dr Catherine Calderwood, who resigned after breaking the lockdown guidelines]. The establishment of testing facilities in Edinburgh and Glasgow has enabled quicker notification of results.  The Scottish Government is encouraging organisations to ensure that business continuity plans are refreshed, in light of the coronavirus. We are also promoting good respiratory hygiene practices in order to minimise the risk of catching and spreading it.

Jackie Baillie:  I welcome the First Minister’s response. The spread of coronavirus has been rapid, and the number of people who have been affected has increased dramatically. We do not have any confirmed cases of infection in Scotland, but it is just a matter of time until we do. On that basis, can the First Minister tell me what additional planning has been undertaken to ensure that there are sufficient infection-control staff, additional isolation facilities and sufficient bed capacity in our already overstretched hospitals to cope with the virus?

The First Minister:  It will be just a matter of time until we see cases here. There is still a lot to learn about the virus—whom it affects, whom it affects most severely, how it spreads and the rate of infection. That knowledge is developing almost every day. We are currently, and sensibly, using the pandemic flu plan to assess and prepare resources and response planning. Health Protection Scotland has produced clinical and laboratory guidance for investigation and initial management, which I spoke about earlier today.  We are looking very carefully at the resources that health boards have and need, and at how they would be required to redeploy resources in the event of a serious outbreak of coronavirus. We have activated the Scottish Government resilience room to support those efforts: I chaired its first meeting on 29 January. I assure Parliament that plans are well under way and are well developed. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will keep Parliament fully updated, as the situation develops.

Jackie Baillie’s exchange with Nicola Sturgeon on 12 March:

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab):  Constituents with cystic fibrosis have significantly reduced lung function and so will experience severe consequences as a result of coronavirus. Some are self-isolating already, but others remain at work. I have become more concerned since a local general practitioner contacted me this morning, urging the Scottish Government to act now to institute isolation measures across the population. He strongly believes that the true extent of the virus’s spread is much wider than the amount among those who have been tested.  He said: ‘Every extra 24 hours that we leave it now will mean more deaths in two weeks’ time.’  I therefore urge the First Minister not to wait until next week, and ask her to accelerate action in order to protect the population.

The First Minister:  I am grateful to Jackie Baillie for raising the issue. I am acutely aware of the importance and urgency of the issue. She will understand that because I am not a clinician it is important that I, and all those who are in positions such as mine, listen to, and are guided and informed by, the advice and expertise of the people who are best placed to give it.  On many occasions—most recently, this morning—I have discussed with the chief medical officer the issue of people who have underlying health conditions. The four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom are considering how to give specific advice quickly to people who have particular conditions, of which there is potentially a large number. As I said earlier, there is existing guidance for people who have severely compromised immune systems, and that guidance should be followed.  I make it clear to Jackie Baillie and other members that the issues are being treated urgently. That is true not just of the Government but of our medical advisers. It is important that we give people the right advice. The behaviour changes that we will ask people to make will be in place for, potentially, a significant period and not just for a couple of weeks. It is important that that advice is right, that people can rely on it and that it is informed by people who know what is the right thing to do. I will continue to have discussions regularly, as will the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

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