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A damning report by the Scottish Auditor General revealed pandemic planning failures by the SNP-led Scottish Government may have contributed to PPE shortages and stretched social care capacity that hindered Scotland’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Scotland’s initial response to COVID-19 was based on preparations for a major influenza pandemic, with three government training exercises carried out in the past five years.
Specific recommendations emerged from the pandemic preparations – including securing personal protective equipment (PPE) and increasing the “capacity and capability of social care to cope during an outbreak”.
But the new report by Auditor General Stephen Boyle concludes the Scottish Government was “slow” at implementing the improvements from the simulations in some of the areas that would become a “significant challenge” during the pandemic response.
While it praises the government’s fast response to the coronavirus outbreak, the report made clear the Scottish Government “could have been better prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic” and lessons must be learned.
The report added: “It based its initial response on the 2011 UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy but did not fully implement improvements identified during subsequent pandemic preparedness exercises.”
Major blow to the FM: The report exposed how the SNP failed to manage the NHS during the pandemic
Nearly 7,000 people who have tested positive for COVID19 have died in Scotland since last February
Failures include a lack of guidance about how Scotland’s social care sector could cope with a flu pandemic, despite being identified as a priority.
Although the Scottish Government consultation on some draft advice between July and September 2019, nothing was ever published.
One of the simulation exercises also “highlighted the need for substantive progress in the area of PPE availability and use across Scotland” with clarity about accessing a stockpile of equipment identified as another priority.
Audit Scotland recommended the SNP led government publishes national pandemic guidance for the health and social care sector as a priority, including lessons that have been learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and the previous planning exercises.
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Despite the capacity of testing 77,000 people a day, only 21,000 tests were carried out daily
The report further states that actions taken to prevent Scotland’s NHS from becoming overwhelmed during the pandemic meant the health service was now facing a “substantial backlog of patients”.
It adds: “It will be hard to deal with this backlog alongside the financial and operational challenges already faced by boards.”
The report also referenced a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) survey from April that found 47 percent of nurses in high-risk areas were asked to reuse PPE, and a quarter had not had their mask fit-tested.
Commenting on the report, Mr Boyle added: “NHS staff have shown extraordinary commitment to treating and caring for Scotland’s people during a pandemic that has highlighted the need to deal with long-standing health inequalities.
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Health Secretary Jeane Freeman defended the Government’s record
“Getting the full range of health services back up and running will be challenging.
“But there are clear lessons to be learned from the pandemic, both in how the country could have been better prepared and in the innovation that we’ve seen.
“It’s essential that these advances are now retained and built upon.”
When Health Secretary Jeane Freeman was asked about the recommendations that emerged from the pandemic preparedness exercises – named Silver Swan; Cygnus; and Iris – back in May, she said: “It was of value to us when we began to deal with this particular coronavirus pandemic.
The report found that the Scottish Government has been slow in implementing the pandemic actions
“But in some respects it was not sufficient, particularly around the emerging clinical and scientific understanding of how coronavirus spreads, and its level of infectiousness, if you like.”
Last night, Donald Cameron MSP, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, said: “This damning report reveals nearly a decade of SNP dithering and dereliction.
“It cannot be dismissed by the usual SNP spin. This is not about the benefit of hindsight.
“The auditor general is clear. The SNP Government failed to heed loud and clear warnings.”
Ms Baillie said the SNP government had left the NHS “in a weakened position before the pandemic”
Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie MSP, said: “This report makes it clear that the SNP government had left the Scottish NHS in a weakened position before the pandemic.
“Health boards were already struggling to break even, with staff under increasing pressure and waiting times on the rise.
“Even more damning is the abject failure to act on pandemic planning recommendations.”
Dr Lewis Morrison, British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland chairman, said: “There is obviously some concern that the Scottish Government could have been better prepared and acted quicker on learning from various planning exercises.
Mr Cameron said the “damning report reveals nearly a decade of SNP dithering and dereliction”
“This would seem particularly true on doctors’ experiences of PPE – where early concerns needed to be rapidly addressed.
“Going forward, lessons such as these must be learned so that such issues are addressed before they arrive, given the safety of the staff caring for patients must be at the top of the list of priorities during times like this.”
Dr Morrison warned restarting services will be a “substantial challenge” and said: “A priority here must be giving staff the break they need to recover from the past year – we will not be able to return the NHS to a more normal state if we simply drive staff even harder to meet pent-up demand for care and risk forcing them out of the workforce for good.”
He added: “Finally, the fact that the death rate from COVID-19 is more than twice as high in the most deprived areas – 183 per 100,000 population – than in the least deprived areas – 79 per 100,000 population – underlines the pressing need to address the scandal of health inequalities in Scotland.
Scotland is currently under a tough national lockdown
“Your life chances should not be determined by the postcode you were born in and we urgently need sustained action across government to deal with that.”
In response, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, added: “We welcome this report and will consider its findings carefully.
“As Audit Scotland acknowledge, the COVID-19 pandemic was caused by a new disease with unknown characteristics, and like governments around the world, we have had to respond rapidly to the emergence of an entirely new public health threat.”