A new report into the impact of Covid-19 in Scotland’s care homes is needed amid concerns that a key study by Public Health Scotland may have been “compromised”, the Tories have said.
In a report published last year, Public Health Scotland (PHS) concluded hospital discharges did not contribute significantly to coronavirus outbreaks in care settings.
But this work has now been questioned after it was reported that PHS has a duty to protect ministers.
The Times said documents released under freedom of information laws show the health body has an agreed “communications framework” with the Scottish Government and Cosla, which represents councils.
This instructs PHS to manage “risk” when communicating with the media and public, making clear this work will “primarily relate to reducing the potential impact of the risk on the reputation and credibility of the organisations, which may also impact the wider NHS and local authorities”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed it is “not the duty of Public Health Scotland or any other public body to protect ministers”.
Speaking after a meeting of ministers in the British Irish Council, she added: “The duty of Public Health Scotland is to play its part in the protection of the health of the Scottish people and they do a very good job in doing that.”
On whether another report on the impact of Covid-19 on care homes is needed, Ms Sturgeon said this will be covered in future public inquiries into the pandemic.
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells insisted: “We now need a new, truly independent report on what went wrong in Scotland’s care homes, where more than 3,000 people tragically lost their lives. Families deserve comprehensive analysis they can trust.
“There is a blatant conflict of interest in Public Health Scotland judging SNP ministers, who the agency has a duty to protect from criticism.”
The PHS report, published in October, revealed that between March 1 and April 21 2020, there were 3,599 discharges from hospitals to care homes, with the majority (81.9%) not tested for coronavirus.
Speaking at the time of its publication, Ms Sturgeon said the report concluded that allowing for other factors, such as the size of a care home, “hospital discharges were not found to have contributed to a significantly higher risk of an outbreak”.
Ms Wells added: “The Public Health Scotland report on Covid deaths in care homes was controversial from the start.
“It was delayed and when it was finally released, the SNP set about spinning lines and downplaying its findings.
“Grieving families were furious at the lack of answers it gave.
“This news calls into question if the findings of that report were compromised. The revelation that Public Health Scotland must protect SNP ministers may well explain why key information was omitted.”