No plan could have helped Scotland tackle Covid pandemic, inquiry hears

Scottish former well being secretary Jeane Freeman has admitted the nation could have been higher ready to take care of the Covid-19 pandemic, however “no plan” could have helped the nation cope.

Giving proof on the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, Ms Freeman stated: “There have been definitely areas the place Scotland could have been higher ready, when it comes to the underlying construction and the supply of all of these the suggestions.

“However Scotland, like different nations all through the world, was coping with a virus which was unknown and new, so in that sense I don’t imagine there’s a plan that may have been potential that may have been ready in and of itself to deal with Covid-19.”

Ms Freeman, Scotland’s well being secretary from 2018 to 2021, stated there was sufficient private protecting tools (PPE) out there for hospital workers however points surrounding distribution have been behind some shortages.

I do know that we had sufficient PPE, however clearly we encountered points round distribution, each to the place it was wanted but additionally inside these areas to the people who wanted particular PPE

Jeane Freeman

She stated all points raised relating to PPE have been acted on in “actual time”, and he or she was up to date on provides every day.

She added that with one other colleague, she “invested to arrange a home provide chain of PPE in these circumstances of excessive international competitors… I do know that we had sufficient PPE, however clearly we encountered points round distribution, each to the place it was wanted but additionally inside these areas to the people who wanted particular PPE”.

Ms Freeman expressed her condolences to folks affected by the pandemic and thanked well being and social care workers.

The inquiry additionally heard that the board set as much as work on Scotland’s preparations for a potential pandemic needed to droop conferences for greater than six months earlier than the Covid outbreak as a result of warnings over the results of a no-deal Brexit.

Gillian Russell, a senior civil servant who was the director of safer communities in Scotland between 2015 and 2020, advised the inquiry the Scottish Authorities Pandemic Flu Preparedness Board (PFPB) made “disappointing” progress on its plans earlier than the pandemic.

The inquiry heard the board was commissioned in summer time 2017 by then deputy first minister John Swinney, who is because of give proof to the inquiry on Thursday, and the group was fashioned “to steer on Scotland’s pursuits at UK degree and additional develop preparedness in Scotland”.

The dialogue got here after Kate Blackwell KC raised the topic of the Scottish Authorities’s simulation of a flu pandemic in 2016, named Operation Silver Swan, and a sequence of suggestions made after the train to enhance the nation’s readiness to take care of a pandemic.

She advised the inquiry quite a few conferences have been held by well being officers to assessment progress on the supply of these suggestions in addition to additional requires enhancements after one other UK-wide pandemic rehearsal known as Operation Cygnus a yr later.

Ms Blackwell identified most of the suggestions had nonetheless not been absolutely carried out by June 2019, and requested Ms Russell why minutes of a resilience workforce assembly held that month to assessment progress stated work to ship them had been “paused”.

Ms Russell replied: “In October 2018 we have been offered with the Yellowhammer planning assumptions for a no-deal Brexit they usually have been considerably difficult.

“A choice was taken that precedence ought to be given to working via how we’d mitigate the numerous dangers that may instantly crystalise on a no-deal Brexit.

“That took up an enormous quantity of strategic capability throughout many elements of Scottish Authorities, together with the resilience co-ordination of lots of that work.”

Turning to the formation of the PFPB to supervise the work, Ms Blackwell requested Ms Russell why it appeared the group initially met each two months then stopped assembly between November 2018 and June 2019.

Ms Russell once more cited behind-the-scenes planning for leaving the EU.

Requested if there had additionally been an issue with sources, Ms Russell replied: “There’s a finite useful resource in Authorities of individuals with sure abilities and experience.”

She stated workers with experience on topics reminiscent of drug provides would have been concerned in pandemic preparedness, however needed to be tasked to think about the impact a no-deal Brexit would have on provides.

“There was lots of work throughout Authorities to attempt to mitigate and perceive these dangers,” she stated.

Noting that some work on pandemic preparedness was later described in paperwork as being handled beneath the time period “enterprise as ordinary”, Ms Blackwell requested: “It was a disappointing response, wasn’t it, to the suggestions from each Silver Swan and Cygnus?”

Ms Russell replied: “It was disappointing however different elements got here into play.”

It had been broadly reported that Scotland’s former chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood would give proof to the inquiry on Wednesday, however she didn’t seem.

No clarification was supplied for her absence however it’s understood she will probably be known as later to present her proof.

A Scottish Authorities spokesperson stated: “Dr Calderwood just lately suffered an accident that required emergency medical remedy.”

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