HEALTH SECRETARY’S IGNOMINIOUS FAREWELL

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

I wonder should I go or should I stay?

The band has only one more song to play.

And looking from the corner of my eye, I can envisage it beginning with the word “Farewell”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is counting the cost of the division and turmoil within her party over the alleged conspiracy to throw the portly figure of Alex Salmond overboard.

A clear indication of this is that her Cabinet is shipping members at pace and that some of her most experienced MEPs and Ministers are heading for the Holyrood lifeboats.

The old heads amongst them do not relish a dirty election battle – and it will be that – come next day when Scotland’s voters go to the polls.

And the prospect of a long period in opposition to a rainbow coalition of the Labour, Liberal and Green parties has no attraction whatsoever for them.

Golden parachutes, fat pensions and a comfortable departure beyond care homes from this vale of tears is what they are looking forward to now.

There is no question that the SNP government’s handling of Covid-19 has been catastrophic.

The excuse that that if they had known then what they know now does not hold water.

If the families of the thousands of people who died in the pandemic had only known then what they know now, they would never have placed their elderly loved ones in care homes.Bottom of Form

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, who is one of the departing dozen, has admitted she would have handled the coronavirus crisis differently had she known how badly it would rip through Scotland’s care homes.

The SNP MSP announced she will step away from front line politics next year to focus on her partner and their kittens, which are due to arrive next month.

But, according to journalist Annie Brown at the Daily Record, she could not resist attacking the “toxic online culture” that targets women in politics.

Freeman – who has stood by Sturgeon’s side at the much-criticised, televised daily briefings which were supposed to be but often weren’t “non-political – and was supposed to be a safe pair of hands following the departure of Shona Robison (where is she now?) – has recently faced calls to resign as health minister over the number of care home deaths, which is heading towards the 2000 mark.

She has also been lambasted for the crisis now facing the government over the shambles attached to the construction of Scotland’s three hugely expensive new hospitals, including the Sick Kids in Edinburgh, the Royal Children’s Hospital, which replaced Yorkhill in Glasgow, and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which takes patients from West Dunbartonshire.

In an exclusive interview with the Record, the 67-year-old admitted: “If I knew then what I know now, we would have been testing people earlier than April when we started it.

“Testing was happening but it was not a requirement, as it is now, that any patient who has been in hospital for Covid has to give two negative tests before they are discharged and other admissions have to give one negative test.

“In the early days, there was a view that people without symptoms probably weren’t infectious.

“The advice we got at the time is the advice we made the best decision we could on. If we were doing it all again, I would also be introducing the testing of care home workers from the outset.

“I don’t believe the evidence existed back in March that would have led us to take that view then.”

The widespread deaths in care homes has led for calls for Scotland to have a national care service and Freeman feels there should now be a greater public element in the sector.

She said: “I have never been in favour of health care being delivered for profit and I can’t see an argument that says that social care is different.

“But that means there are big funding decisions to be made and if the public want that, they need to know there is a cost attributed to it.”

A leaked letter revealed Freeman wrote to NHS bosses in April urging them to free up hospital beds to ensure wards had capacity following a spike in Covid cases.

Hundreds of patients would be transferred to care homes without first being tested for the virus.

The Scottish Government was criticised after it was revealed 37 patients were discharged into homes despite having previously tested positive – although the real figure is likely to be much higher after the country’s two biggest health boards refused to share their data.

The government is in its Secret Scotland mode on so many fronts that there has been a public outcry about it, especially in the areas of health and education.

The letter from Freeman to health chiefs reveals they were asked to hit a target of clearing 900 delayed discharges out of hospital by the end of April before going on to thank them for moving 920 patients out by April 8.

This week, Freeman said she had made it clear to Parliament in March that she would be working to get a rapid reduction in delayed discharges – an aim she and the First Minister repeated on April 1.

More fool them.

She said: “All the opposition parties knew that is what we were trying to do.

“It has long been a policy that it is wrong for people who no longer need to be in hospital for clinical reasons to be staying in hospital, particularly elderly people.

“It is additionally the case when, at that point, the expectation we would have large numbers of people who were Covid positive coming into those hospitals and the people we knew were most at risk of serious illness and death are the elderly.

“It can’t be said it wasn’t known about and that was part of the overall policy.”

Freeman replied to criticism that the letter was not emphatic about ensuring those discharges were not high risk, because she said there was “enough advice to shake a stick at” which covered all the considerations clinicians should take into account before a release from hospital.

The problem for Freeman is that although the government was swamped with “expert” advice, it was the politicians such as herself and Nicola Sturgeon who had to make the decisions at the end of the day.

Sadly, the decisions they made were wrong.

And the evidence emerging rapidly with the threat that the Covid-19 virus has not gone away and could come back with a vengeance is that the politicians chose to take the wrong advice.

They imposed the lockdown too late and lifted it too early and the country was left to count the cost in coffins, bereaved families and over-burdened cemeteries and crematoria.

END

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