Dominic Cummings' claims about Covid care home scandal in England shine spotlight on Scottish government's mistakes – Ian Murray MP
There was a moment during Dominic Cummings’ extraordinary testimony to MPs when he claimed that disastrous government decisions were made while the Prime Minister was in hospital with Covid.
“When he came back after being ill, he said: ‘What on earth has happened with all these people in care homes?’” the former Downing Street aide alleged. “’[Westminster Health Secretary Matt] Hancock told us in the Cabinet Room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?’”
What the hell happened indeed?
Of course, it’s easy for Cummings to claim that things would have been different if both he and the PM weren’t struck down with Covid.
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Who is to say the same mistakes wouldn’t have been made over the failure to test hospital patients who were sent to care homes?
But I wonder what Nicola Sturgeon’s excuse is?
She reminds us she was in charge every single day, without incapacitation, by appearing on TV. Yet, the exact same grave errors that have led to calls for Hancock to be sacked were made here in Scotland.
Between March 1 and April 21 last year, only 650 of 3,599 elderly patients discharged from Scottish hospitals were tested. As we know, Covid then swept through care homes like wildfire, tragically claiming the lives of many.
When Hancock appears before the Commons joint select committee in the days ahead, he will no doubt face difficult questions about his actions.
Unfortunately, I can’t see the First Minister facing the same scrutiny.
Holyrood’s committees are not built to hold the government to account, with too many nationalist backbenchers choosing to cheerlead for ministers rather than hold them impartially to account.
Scrutiny of government decisions is more vital than ever as we move towards the Covid recovery stage.
The impact of the pandemic on the physical and mental health of Scots has been catastrophic, with long-term consequences. My postbag is increasing every day with such issues.
We must re-mobilise the NHS and restart cancer services. We have heard this week that urgent breast cancer referrals are 42 per cent above pre-Covid levels.
And yet a decision has been taken to cease the use of private capacity to tackle the cancer backlog facing the NHS, which could make the difference between patients living or dying.
With around £1bn of funding from the UK yet to be allocated by the Scottish government, including £700m from UK government NHS expenditure, we need to prioritise NHS recovery.
And it’s not just the backlog of cancer cases that is deeply concerning. This week we learned the scale of the mental health crisis facing children and young people in Scotland.
Only 72.5 per cent of those seen for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) had waited less than 18 weeks, despite the Scottish government standard that 90 per cent should start treatment within 18 weeks of referral. The position in Edinburgh is much worse.
We urgently need an increase in mental health funding and capacity to at least the level provided in England and Wales.
The decisions made in the Scottish Parliament over the coming years will define how our country recovers from Covid.
This is why proper scrutiny of government decisions is so important.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South