Prince Philip: Demand to let recalled MSPs question Freeman over care home deaths is rejected by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh
A demand to let MSPs question the Health Secretary over care home deaths when they return to Holyrood on Monday has been rejected by the Presiding Officer.
Mr Macintosh announced on Friday that he will recall the Scottish Parliament at the start of next week to allow members to pay their respects to the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
But Labour’s Neil Findlay, who is not seeking re-election, asked Mr Macintosh on Saturday for the chance to question Jeane Freeman once the tributes had finished.
The Lothians MSP, who is not standing for re-election, made the demand after Ms Freeman admitted on Thursday that moving patients back from hospitals into care homes during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic was a “mistake”.
There have been more than 3,200 coronavirus deaths - and 10,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 - amongst care home residents since the start of the pandemic.
In an interview with the BBC’s Politically Thinking podcast, Ms Freeman also said the Scottish Government had failed in “understanding the social care sector well enough” and “we didn’t take the right precautions” when older people were leaving hospitals.
In a letter to Ken Macintosh, Mr Findlay said the retiring Health Secretary’s admission was a matter “of huge national importance.”
The 52-year-old wrote: Dear Presiding officer, I understand that parliament is to be recalled on Monday to mark the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Given that MSPs will be back and parliament in session, I am requesting that following the tributes will you allow for a break and then make time for MSPs to question the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health on the Covid death toll reaching 10,000 and the new admission by the Cabinet Secretary that mistakes were made in the discharge of untested patients to care homes.
“These are matters of huge national importance,” he wrote.
“At no time in the last year have Ministers accepted they made mistakes in their care home discharge policy, now this has been admitted then MSPs must be able to hold those in power to account.”
But in a reply sent on Saturday afternoon, Mr Mactintosh rejected the request outright.
"Thank you for your email asking for a question session to be scheduled when Parliament is recalled on Monday,” he wrote.
“The Parliament is being recalled, in line with other UK legislatures, to allow members to pay their respects to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.
"As discussed at yesterday’s Parliamentary Bureau meeting, this will be the only business of the day.
He added: “While I do appreciate your desire to enable members to question the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary on the matters you raise, the campaign recess arrangements aim to ensure fairness to all candidates standing in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary election.”
Before political campaigning was suspended on Friday afternoon, opposition parties reacted angrily to Ms Freeman’s admission.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “For almost a year, grieving families have been left without answers about what happened to their loved ones.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, added: “The time for reflection was when it could have saved lives, not now on podcasts.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said Mr Macintosh would respond to Mr Findlay’s request later today.