The best advice is not being followed - Ian Murray MP

One year ago, Nike employees from across the globe were preparing for a major international conference in Edinburgh.
A practice nurse at the Pentland Medical Practice, Currie. Picture: Russell Cheyne - WPA Pool/Getty ImagesA practice nurse at the Pentland Medical Practice, Currie. Picture: Russell Cheyne - WPA Pool/Getty Images
A practice nurse at the Pentland Medical Practice, Currie. Picture: Russell Cheyne - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Covid-19 was spreading across borders, although no public cases in the UK had yet been reported.

The conference went ahead as planned – foreign delegates mingled in the hotel, went for kilt fittings, enjoyed tours of the Old Town, and socialised in restaurants and bars. Unwittingly, Covid was brought to our city, and from here it spread to north-east England and elsewhere. It was our ground-zero moment.

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If it wasn’t for a BBC investigation, we may still be in the dark about this, as the SNP government chose to cover-up the outbreak. Life carried on as normal in the capital, with the Six Nations game against France at Murrayfield going ahead.

This was the first major mistake the government made in those early weeks of the pandemic. It was far from the last.

Elderly hospital patients – even those who had tested positive – were moved into care homes, allowing the virus to spread to the most vulnerable. Frontline NHS workers were left battling to find PPE, even forced to reuse equipment because supplies were so scarce. Testing targets were missed by a mile, despite repeat international advice to ‘test, test, test’.

When these failings are raised, Nicola Sturgeon claims she was dealing with an unprecedented situation. But that doesn’t mean the government wasn’t warned to be better prepared.

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And now we have the evidence which proves that SNP ministers failed to follow that old Scout motto – Be Prepared.

A damning report this week from Audit Scotland has revealed how the government was involved in three massive pandemic training exercises - Silver Swan, Cygnus, and Iris. These identified major concerns about the capacity and capability of social care and the NHS to cope during a pandemic and access to PPE.

But the SNP put the warnings from the exercises in boxes marked ‘not needed’ and forgot about them.

Probably right next to the latest report on Scotland’s abysmal education performance, which nationalist ministers have received, yet decided not to publish until after Mays election. They are getting good at cover-ups.

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The Audit Scotland findings are symptomatic of the SNP’s mismanagement of our NHS, ruthlessly exposed by Covid. Under-funded and under-resourced, with waiting time promises broken over 300,000 times and a chronic shortage of staff, all stemming from the time the then-Health Secretary cut student nursing places.

The Health Secretary’s name? Nicola Sturgeon.

As we reflect on the cost of the pandemic, one year on, we know there are lessons that must be learned. And there is the promise of hope, with the UK leading Europe in the vaccine roll-out and Scotland finally catching up after a sluggish start.

But we are far from out of the woods. And still the best advice is not being followed.

In January, an average of just 21,000 tests out of 77,000 were carried out each day in Scotland. And we are facing a ticking timebomb when it comes to the backlog of patients waiting for non-Covid treatment.

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We need a massive catch-up plan for our NHS that addresses workforce challenges and financial pressures so that we can rebuild it. This must be the top priority for the years ahead.

After ignoring previous warnings, we must learn the lessons.