It is “nonsense” to suggest the Scottish Government has been trying to hide the scale of the spread of coronavirus in hospitals, according to the health secretary.
More than 900 patients have caught the disease in non-coronavirus wards, with at least 218 dying since the start of the outbreak.
Jeane Freeman has been accused of keeping the true figure a secret “for as long as possible” after stating on Thursday there were only 125 “incidents” of suspected Covid-19 transmission in hospital.
She said at a briefing on Sunday that the discrepancy between the figures could be explained by the need to validate whether patients had acquired the virus in hospital or were already incubating it when they were admitted.
Asked her response to accusations from opponents of trying to hide the scale of the problem, the health secretary replied: “Absolutely not. I’m not trying to conceal anything.
“I don’t think any reasonable person could consider that the Scottish Government in any respect has been anything other than transparent and open about the statistics and the information that we have when we are confident of that information.
“And that’s why, even though the numbers have not been validated, we released those numbers, but the validation is the important part of the work that needs to be done.
“That validation will then, and I hope it is ready to be published by the end of this month, that validation will then help inform us of the additional work that we may need to do in the hospital setting as we begin to reopen the NHS.
“But a great deal of work is already underway in our hospitals on the back of an excellent record in public safety.”
She added: “When the figures that have been released are validated we will release those figures and we will take questions at that point but the idea that we are hiding or concealing or anything is quite frankly nonsense.”
Scottish Labour has called for an independent investigation into the spread of coronavirus in hospitals.
Freeman was also asked how she can explain the discrepancy between the number of incidents involving Covid-19 cases in hospitals and the number of patients affected.
She said: “Clearly the discrepancy is between describing incidents, which is one that is a standard description of infections in hospital, potential hospital acquired or healthcare acquired infections and the number of patients that are affected.
“So 125 is the correct number of incidents, 121 of them have now been closed and 908 is the correct number of patients who have been affected.
“But now the data has to be validated to try and understand, as far as we can within the definition, how many of those individuals acquired that infection in hospital and how many were already incubating the virus on admission to hospital.
“That’s straightforwardly the explanation between those two numbers.”
Commenting on those who caught Covid-19 in hospital, Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “Ministers still won’t tell us how many of them were sent to care homes with the infection and later died.
“Care homes remain at the centre of this crisis and we can’t continue to have silent spreaders with no symptoms going about untested. Promising routine and regular testing is easy but this government is failing to deliver.
“We need a guarantee from the Scottish Government that they will stop wasting unused testing capacity and ensure all NHS and care staff are regularly tested.”