Sturgeon 'could face charges' over sending patients to care homes without Covid testing

15 December 2021, 19:36 | Updated: 15 December 2021, 20:47

Sturgeon could face criminal charges over care home Covid policy, according to a prominent lawyer
Sturgeon could face criminal charges over care home Covid policy, according to a prominent lawyer. Picture: Alamy
Gina Davidson

By Gina Davidson

Nicola Sturgeon and her former health secretary Jeane Freeman could face criminal charges over the decision to transfer patients into care homes without being tested for Covid, a senior Scottish lawyer has claimed.

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Just 24 hours after the announcement of the chair of the Covid-19 public inquiry, Solicitor Advocate Professor Peter Watson has said it was "entirely feasible" criminal charges may be brought, as both the First Minister and Ms Freeman have previously admitted mistakes were made.

At least 1,300 elderly hospital patients were sent to care homes without being tested for coronavirus at the start of the pandemic, a decision described as "a mistake" by Ms Sturgeon and the former health secretary.

Prof Watson, a lawyer representing some families whose relatives died in care homes, spoke out after the announcement of the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic by the Scottish Government.

He expressed concern over an apparent failure to introduce appropriate protections against infection in care homes following the outbreak of Covid-19, with 3,292 deaths in care recorded between March and April 8 2020.

Prof Watson of PBW Law said: "On behalf of the families who lost loved ones in care homes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we welcome the announcement that there will be an inquiry led by Lady Poole.

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"The crucial aspect of this inquiry is the fact that the Lord Advocate has the power to determine if any crimes have been committed.

"The instruction to transfer patients from hospitals back into care homes without any risk assessment, testing, or understanding of the consequences will be an area of particular concern to bereaved families.

"The First Minister and former cabinet secretary for health have previously admitted that mistakes were made. It is entirely feasible that criminal charges may be brought.

"We have reported our concerns in the past and will continue to press the Crown for answers."

Prof Watson has previously been involved in the inquiry into the death of rally driver Colin McRae, the Piper Alpha oil disaster, and represented the families of 16 pupils in the Dunblane Primary School massacre.

The public inquiry announced by Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday will cover 12 separate areas, including pre-pandemic planning, the decision to enter lockdown, the supply and distribution of PPE and how coronavirus was dealt with within care homes.

He also revealed that Lady Anna Poole, a senator of the College of Justice of Scotland, will chair the inquiry.

Prof Watson added: "This is now an opportunity for everyone affected by the failures in the care home sector, failures in the role and function of the Care Inspectorate and in the provision of medical services to care home residents to come forward and take part in this inquiry."

Responding to the remarks Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "The revelation that untested and Covid-positive patients were shipped out of hospitals and into care homes was one of the most jaw dropping moments of the whole pandemic.

"I hope that Lady Poole's inquiry will leave no stone unturned and that she will be able to provide a degree of closure for the families because they deserve to know how ministerial decisions caused the virus to enter care homes.

"The First Minster, her health secretaries and senior officials should be prepared to give evidence to Lady Poole as part of the evidence gathering process."

Nicola Sturgeon told LBC: "None of that is a matter for me. I know that the decisions that were taken around for care homes were taken at the time on the basis of the best information we had with the objective to keep people in care homes and across the population as safe as possible.

"Of course with hindsight, if we could turn the clock back we might do things differently, but the decisions were taken on the basis of the best advice that we had."

Meanwhile solicitor Aamer Anwar, who is acting on behalf of members of the Scottish branch of the UK group 'Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice' said the inquiry needed to be "robust, independent and transparent" to restore public confidence and guarantee "a crisis like this can never happen again".

He added: "Whilst the UK Government appears no further forward in setting up an inquiry, it is important that lessons are learnt now in Scotland whilst evidence and memories are still clear and reliable.

"At first glance the wide-ranging terms of reference are welcomed but these are only draft terms and in the coming days and weeks, we will make further submissions on critical areas."

He said it must deal with impact of Covid on Scotland's Black, Asian and minority ethnic community, women, disabled people and those with special needs, the chronically ill, long Covid patients, workers in call centres as well as frontline workers, and the hospitality and night life sector.