Health secretary Jeane Freeman has told MSPs almost 900 NHS staff may have contracted coronavirus in hospitals.
She stressed it is “unvalidated data” but said there are 894 confirmed or suspected cases of the virus among health staff linked to 125 “incidents” at hospitals.
Freeman said there had potentially been 901 patient cases of Covid-19 that could be linked to these outbreaks – 870 patients confirmed as having the virus and 31 where the disease is suspected.
This includes 218 patients who have died.
She said: “When we do the validation of data we will know how many of those cases, those staff, those deaths arose as a consequence of hospital-acquired Covid-19.”
The health secretary said the Scottish Government published the unvalidated data to try to be “helpful”.
But she added: “It is not yet clear whether all of the individuals involved contracted the infection in the community prior to admission or in hospital.”
She said the number of staff and patients who could have been infected “is very far from definitive at the moment, not least due to the long incubation period of Covid-19”.
Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs told Freeman: “This failure has meant people have entered hospital without coronavirus, they have caught it there and they have died.”
She responded: “Please do not assert what you do not know.
“You are asserting, yet again, on the basis of suspected transmissions, that people have caught this virus in hopsital and have died.
“You don’t know that and neither do I.”
Briggs and other opposition politicians also attacked the health secretary on the issue of testing.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said research suggests infections could be reduced by a third by routine testing.
Freeman has not yet been able to give a start date for the testing of hospital staff.
Johnstone said: “While we ask questions in this chamber, potential asymptomatic carriers are walking around hospitals with potential to infect patients and high-risk staff such as black and minority ethnic doctors and nurses.
“The ongoing absence of routine, regular testing in our hospitals is indefensible.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said his confidence in the government has been “shaken” by the 218 deaths that may be linked to the hospital outbreaks.
Freeman said while she had published unvalidated data in this instance “to be helpful” she would not be repeating the practice.
She told MSPs: “I will not do that again because clearly all the caveats that surround unvalidated data are ignored and the numbers are taken as fact and that is entirely wrong.”
Freeman said the testing of NHS staff, even if they do not have symptoms, is the “right precautionary measure”.
But the health secretary added the “right delivery plan” is needed before this can happen, with work under way to allow it to proceed.