Tories call on Sturgeon to remove health secretary

The Scottish Conservatives accused Jeane Freeman of multiple failures and urged the FM to 'take the blinkers off'.

Tories call on Sturgeon to remove health secretary Getty Images
Jeane Freeman: Scottish Tory leader calls on minister to go.

The Scottish Conservatives have called on Nicola Sturgeon to “take the blinkers off” and remove Jeane Freeman as health secretary.

Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said the First Minister has shown “misplaced loyalty” to her health secretary during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The party has catalogued ten incidents during Freeman’s tenure where it says she “has been lucky to keep her job”.

The First Minister branded the Conservative call to sack one of her key ministers during a pandemic “disgraceful” and “party politics at its worst”.

But Carlaw said “enough is enough” as he accused the health secretary of a “dismal performance” in the last few months.

It comes after Freeman said on Sunday that hospital staff are “not yet” being routinely tested for Covid-19 and that she did not know when that would be the case.

A total of 908 Scottish hospital patients have caught the virus in non-coronavirus wards, with 218 dying over the course of the pandemic.

The Conservatives also cited news reports on Monday that around 18,000 people currently “shielding” at home from coronavirus received wrong information on the date they would be allowed to go outside.

A letter is reported to have been sent in April to those considered most at risk from coronavirus and therefore shielding, which told them could leave their homes for the first time in weeks today – June 8 – when the true date agreed by health officials is June 18.

Sturgeon used Monday’s government briefing to update these shielded groups, such as organ transplant recipients, some cancer patients, people with weakened immune systems and those with severe respiratory conditions.

She apologised for an “administrative error” that had seen some shielded Scots given the wrong date but clarified they would be allowed to go out for daily exercise from next Thursday.

However, shielding will remain in place until July 31, the FM confirmed, although said this date would be kept under review – meaning they cannot yet take part in sports, or meet people from other household.

Other examples of failings the Tories gave included the controversy over a Nike conference in Edinburgh in February where it emerged the first Scottish Covid cases had emerged, with ministers accused of a “cover-up”.

They further highlighted the revelation that more than 900 people were transferred from hospitals to care homes in March before mandatory testing was in place – far higher than the initial figure of about 300 the health secretary provided to MSPs.

Carlaw’s party also raised controversies pre-dating the pandemic, such as the long-delayed opening of the new Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh, as well as the scandal over child infections at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

The Scottish Tory leader said: “Jeane Freeman was already on borrowed time before coronavirus hit.

“But as this crisis has unfolded, a number of issues have unfolded on her watch which were completely avoidable, and enough is enough.

“The testing structure under the SNP has been a disaster, to the point where care homes have been left in the lurch, and now she can’t even say when hospital staff will be routinely tested.

“The misplaced loyalty shown by the First Minister to her health secretary is having a negative impact on the NHS.”

Carlaw added: “A litany of problems had built up before, not least infection deaths of children at the SNP’s flagship hospital in Glasgow, and the continued unacceptable delays of the new Sick Kids in Edinburgh.

“These have been compounded by a dismal performance during the pandemic too.

“Nicola Sturgeon has to take the blinkers off and find someone who can actually get on top of these problems.”

However, speaking at the Scottish Government briefing, the First Minister said the Scottish Tories should be “ashamed” of their approach.

She said that throughout the coronavirus crisis she had “resisted and refused invitations I’ve had at briefings like this to be critical in the UK Government or to engage in traditional politics”.

Sturgeon went on: “I’m going to continue to do that because the issues we’re dealing with right now are incredibly difficult but they’re also the most seriously important any of us have ever dealt with.

“Actually, they’re much more important than the traditional party-political arguments and debates that we have.”

But she said she would have to make an exception for Carlaw’s statement earlier on Monday, branding it “absolutely and utterly disgraceful”.

The First Minister continued: “Unfortunately, I don’t find it surprising and I say this more in sorrow than anger.

“For the last few weeks, the Scottish Tories have seemed to me to be not very interested at all in the real issues that we are grappling with and dealing with here.

“They have seemed to me to be interested only in party politics and in trying to undermine a health secretary who is literally working around the clock to deal with the most difficult issues that any of us have ever dealt with.

“Actually, I think that kind of approach says more about the Scottish Tories than it does about the health secretary or about the Scottish Government.

“I would say they should be ashamed of themselves but I’m not entirely sure they have any shame based on the statement this morning.”