Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Transparency, Accountability and Coronavirus



The Scottish Government has been heavily criticised in recent days for what looks increasingly like a deliberate policy of 'throwing care homes under the bus' in managing the Coronavirus epidemic.

But the revelation that Nicola Sturgeon received no written briefings on Covid-19 from her senior advisers for months, only adds to the sense that things are not working efficiently at the most senior levels of government.

Because the case for keeping proper records is so basic and obvious, especially during such a fast moving crisis as dealing with a international public health emergency.

The purpose is to create a 'collective memory' which allows everyone (including the public) to reflect on why, when and by whom important decisions were made - with the aim of learning lessons and improving decision-making for the future.

Yet the Scottish Government says that no written advice, briefings or reports were received from its National Clinical Director or Chief Medical Officer for the period between January 24 - March 9 2020.

 



Coronavirus: Sturgeon had 'no written briefings' on Covid for months


By Tom Gordon and David Bol - The Herald

Coronavirus: Sturgeon had 'no written briefings' on Covid for months

NICOLA Sturgeon received no written briefings from her chief advisers on coronavirus during the first months of the global pandemic, the Scottish Government has admitted.

Despite chairing Scottish emergency committee meetings on Covid, the First Minister received only verbal updates from her chief medical officer and national clinical director.

The Government said the advisers also shared no written briefings with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at the time.

At the daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon insisted she had received “lots of briefings and lots of advice” in other ways than writing, and said she and Ms Freeman were “completely focused on this”.

However Scottish Labour said the absence of regular, detailed written briefings was “unbelievable and deeply disturbing”.

Ms Sturgeon was previously accused of a “dereliction of duty” after it emerged she missed six UK-wide emergency ‘Cobra’ meetings on the Covid threat in January, February and early March.

The latest revelation emerged after Labour MSP Neil Findlay made a freedom of information request for the briefing suppled to the First Minister between January 24 and March 9.

At the time, the deadly impact of the virus had already been seen in China and Italy.

Scotland’s first confirmed case of coronavirus was announced on March 1.

Mr Findlay asked the Scottish Government for a copy of any briefing, written advice, or report written by the National Clinical Director [Professor Jason Leitch] and/or the Chief Medical Officer [then Dr Catherine Calderwood] and/or anyone in their team(s) in relation to Scottish preparations and planning for Covid-19 that were produced between the 24th January and 9th March.”

This is the FOI raised at Nicola Sturgeon’s press conference -we are expected to believe that no written briefings were sent from the CMO or NCD (including ones written by Junior officials) to The First Minster or Health Sec from Janurary to March - hmmm





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The Government said no such written briefings existed.

The official replying to the Lothians MSP said: “I have completed my search and confirm that no reports/ briefings were shared by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) or the National Clinical Director (NCD) to either the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport (Cab Sec) and/ or the First Minister (FM) on the subject you requested during the time period identified.

“In fast moving situations such as the response to Covid-19, new information constantly emerges and existing data continuously updated.

“Senior officials such as the CMO and NCD need to distil this information quickly and make sure that Ministers are briefed as new information is presented.

“To ensure this is done expediently, sometimes briefings will be presented verbally.

“This was the case in relation to Scottish preparations and planning for Covid-19 between the 24th January 2020 and 9th March 2020.”

Asked about the freedom of information response and lack of written briefings, Ms Sturgeon said: “I haven’t seen the FoI. I’m happy to have a look at it.

“What I can say categorically is I got a great deal of direct briefing from the chief medical officer at the time, the interim chief medical officer who was deputy chief medical officer at the time, and from others as appropriate across the Scottish Government.

“I started to chair meetings of the Scottish Government Resilience Committee specifically on Covid round about the 28th or 29th of January.

“So the Scottiish Government generally and me in particular with the Health Secretary were completely focused on this.

“There’s a range of different ways and means by which ministers receive advice. Sometimes it’s in writing, sometimes it’s in discussion.

"I’m sure that’s been the case since time immemorial and will continue to be the case, particularly in a very fast moving situation.

“That’s the general response I would give you, but I’m happy to look at the particular freedom of information request, and if there’s more I want to add to that I’m happy to do so.”

Mr Findlay said: “The assertion that neither the CMO nor the National Clinical Director provided ministers with written advice during such a critical period is both unbelievable and deeply disturbing.

“How can experts advise the government without issuing written advice?

“The Scottish Government talk about wanting to be open and transparent, yet once again they refuse to publish minutes of key meetings between the former CMO and her UK counterparts. Covid-19 is one of the biggest health crises of the last 50 years – the public must be able to scrutinise the advice and decisions made.”