Unions criticise plan for inspections of online teaching

Holyrood’s Education Committee heard from teaching unions that remote learning has 'pushed a lot of teachers to the edge'.

Online learning: Holyrood’s Education Committee heard from teaching unions. Prasit photo via Getty Images
Online learning: Holyrood’s Education Committee heard from teaching unions.

Teachers are “at the end of their tether” from the pressures of remote learning, and the government’s decision to order inspectors to evaluate the quality of online teaching will make the situation worse, union leaders have warned.

Holyrood’s Education Committee heard from teaching unions that remote learning has “pushed a lot of teachers to the edge” amid criticism of the government’s announcement that Education Scotland would begin inspections.

MSPs were also told that the longer schools were closed the less likely teachers would be able to effectively assess pupils’ performance and estimate grades in the absence of exams.

Seamus Searson, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “We’ve been inundated with members contacting us with what they believe is impossible demands being placed upon them, to try and meet the expectations of parents, pupils and politicians.

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“I just think that we need to be realistic in what we expect of teachers during this period of time.

“We need to continue the engagement of pupils in education, not try to continue as if everything was normal and expect the same outcomes.

“We haven’t been normal since last March, but we do need to have a breathing space in this to actually try and support and encourage teachers to keep doing the excellent job that they’re doing, and not trying to undermine them and double guess them at every opportunity, which appears to be the atmosphere that lots of teachers are reporting back to us.”

Secondary school teacher and NASUWT union representative Richard Bell added: “It really has taken a toll.

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“I think it’s something that we need to bear in mind for the long, long-term sustainability of education and also for the workforce in teaching.

“They must be exhausted and demoralised at this stage, and potentially we are only at the beginning of it.”

Urging the government to try and recruit as many additional school staff as possible, the general secretary of the EIS teaching union, Larry Flanagan, said: “We still have members who have been seeking supply work across the country, and finding it difficult.

“I think every teacher who is available for work should have been signed up to be in schools.”

He added: “If we’ve got 2000 teachers looking for work, there should be 2000 teachers being employed.

“Because we need all hands on deck, in relation to coping with the situation and trying to carve out additional support for the children who are most disadvantaged.”

During a second evidence session, the chief executive of the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA), Fiona Robertson, said the exam board was working alongside the government and other education groups to establish another grading system to replace exams.

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Asked about the concerns of teachers and pupils about the uncertainty about assessments in the committee’s second evidence session, Ms Robertson said the qualification group was working “at pace” to come up with guidance for schools and pupils about the new model.

Ms Robertson told MSPs that the SQA will “strip back in the assessment requirements for each course” and said: “We’ve done as much as we can to provide guidance and support to the system in what is obviously a challenging and fluid situation.”

Challenged about the apparent failure to produce contingency plans this year if there were more lockdowns and school closures, Ms Robertson said the exam board had to “remain agile”.

She added: “We’re going to have to continue to be fleet-of-foot around a number of different scenarios which could play out, depending on public health advice.”


Army to set up 80 coronavirus vaccine sites in Scotland

Defence secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the deployment of 98 soldiers over the next 28 days.

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Covid-19: Soldiers will help to identify and prepare vaccination centres.

The British Army will help set up 80 coronavirus vaccination centres throughout Scotland as part of the largest peacetime resilience operation carried out by the armed forces.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the deployment of 98 soldiers over the next 28 days to identify and prepare suitable locations for NHS Scotland to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.

Soldiers will organise vaccine delivery to the sites, prepare storage for medicines and equipment, how to register and record patients as well as sorting car parking and traffic flow around the sites.

The troops, most of whom will be from the Leuchars-based Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, will then hand over the running of the sites to the health service.

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Wallace said: “The armed forces are operating across the length and breadth of the country, using their unique skill set to ensure the vaccine reaches the very fingertips of the United Kingdom.

“Our work supporting the new vaccine sites in Scotland complements the extensive preparation and planning the military are already conducting to support the vaccine rollout programme.

“Using the logistical expertise of military personnel, honed in war zones around the world, frees up NHS Scotland and local authorities to continue to focus on administering the initial 900,000 doses provided to Scotland by the UK Government in January.”

The 98 soldiers will be directed by 20 military personnel based in Stirling while a further 32 will offer support alongside the Scottish Government and Scotland’s health boards from St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

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Scottish secretary Alister Jack said: “For us all, vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m very pleased that the expertise of the British armed forces is helping the Scottish Government get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible.

“The UK Government is supplying and paying for vaccines for the whole of the UK – it is now vital that these doses are administered as soon as possible.

“The UK Government is supporting all parts of the UK during the pandemic. That includes our unprecedented furlough scheme, delivering the bulk of daily testing in Scotland and providing the Scottish Government with an extra £8.6bn to support Scotland’s Covid response.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our vaccination programme covers all parts of the UK and I’m proud the armed forces are supporting the largest rollout in our country’s history.

“We have already vaccinated more than 3.5 million people across the UK and this is rapidly increasing every day as more vaccine sites open, providing easier access for people.

“We are making strong progress on our commitment to offer vaccines to all of the most vulnerable people in the top four priority groups by the middle on February.”

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Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman added: “This is the largest mass vaccination programme Scotland has ever undertaken and I am very grateful to the armed forces for their support to help us meet the significant logistical challenges involved, and ensure that by the time sufficient vaccination supplies are in place we have the facility to deliver around 400,000 doses per week by the end of February.

“Vaccination is a vital tool in our work to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level in Scotland but other measures including testing remain absolutely vital, which is why it is so essential people continue to follow the restrictions currently in place while vaccine delivery is rolled out across the country.”

Monica Lennon joins Anas Sarwar in Scottish Labour leadership race

The central Scotland MSP and party health spokeswoman hopes to succeed Richard Leonard.

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Scottish Labour: Monica Lennon hopes to succeed Richard Leonard as the party's leader.

Monica Lennon has confirmed her bid to succeed Richard Leonard as the next Scottish Labour leader, joining Anas Sarwar in the race.

The central Scotland MSP and party health spokeswoman is vying to replace Leonard, who announced on Thursday he would step down from the role he has held since 2017.

It triggers a contest after Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesman, announced his intention to run again having lost out to Leonard for leadership last time around.

Lennon said: “Following extensive discussions with party members, I have decided to put my name forward to lead the Scottish Labour Party.

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“This is an important time for our country and it is vital that Scottish Labour continues to play a positive and constructive role during the pandemic response.

“The Scottish Parliament election will be a key moment in our democracy, when we decide what a Covid-19 recovery should look like.

“Scottish Labour Party members deserve to have their say about the best way to take forward our vision for a fairer and more equal Scotland.”

Sarwar set out his stall to replace Leonard on Saturday, saying the country “needs political leadership that will bring people together” and that he wants “to rebuild Scottish Labour, and then rebuild Scotland”.

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In a column for the Observer online, the Glasgow MSP wrote: “Over the past few years, I have gained a new perspective on our politics and realised that the things we argue about mean little to people’s lives.

“We spend too much time highlighting our differences, rather than focusing on what unites us.

“I firmly believe we cannot go back to society as it was before the pandemic – insecure work, hollowed-out public services, an underfunded health service, and the constant focus on another independence referendum when there’s far more important things we need to be dealing with.

“Scottish Labour can compete again if we offer a positive alternative – a plan to heal our wounds, to reunite our people and to rebuild our country.”

On Saturday, the party’s executive agreed to a condensed timescale for any contest with the Holyrood elections less than four months away.

The last Scottish Labour leadership contest in 2017 – when Leonard defeated Sarwar – took two-and-a-half months.

A deadline of midnight on Sunday was set for candidates to declare their intention to run and they require support from at least four of the party’s MSPs or its sole Scottish MP by midday on the following Tuesday to be formally nominated.

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Party members and affiliated supporters will be able to cast their votes from February 9 until ballots close on February 26 with the new leader to be announced the following day.


Coronavirus: 1341 new cases as hospital patients rise overnight

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 1918 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

More people are now in hospital with coronavirus than at any time during the pandemic despite new infections falling to the lowest level in almost three weeks.

A further 1341 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland over the past 24 hours, the Scottish Government confirmed.

The number of new infections is 412 below the 1753 announced on Saturday and is the lowest since December 28 – although there tend to be fewer cases recorded at the weekend.

There have been no further deaths reported.

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Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 162,333 since the start of the pandemic.

The daily test positivity rate is 9.5%, up from the 8.4% reported on Saturday.

Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 412 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 226 are in Lanarkshire, 131 are in Grampian, 125 are in Ayrshire and Arran, and 123 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across seven other health board areas.

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The number of patients with recently confirmed coronavirus continues to reach record levels – increasing daily since Christmas Day, when there were 973 people in hospital.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 1918 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – an increase of 55 overnight. Out of those, 147 patients are in intensive care.

The death toll of those who had tested positive stands at 5305, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 7074.


SNP ‘ramping up’ indyref2 campaign with creation of taskforce

The SNP has faced criticism from opposition parties for not focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.

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The SNP has announced the creation of a taskforce to support its campaign for Scottish independence.

The SNP has announced the creation of a taskforce to support its campaign for Scottish independence but faced criticism from opposition parties for not focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.

The taskforce could be the “final piece in the jigsaw” for achieving independence, according to the SNP’s depute leader Keith Brown.

He said it demonstrates the independence campaign is “ramping things up”, with the SNP looking to develop a strategy for another independence campaign ahead of May’s Holyrood elections.

“The independence taskforce will bring strategic direction and expertise which I believe is the final piece in the jigsaw that will help deliver independence,” Mr Brown said.

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He added: “Our independence taskforce at SNP headquarters will be welcomed by party members and grassroots Yes activists across the country.”

Mr Brown also indicated a “high-profile” Yes campaigner will soon be announced to lead the project and added: “I really believe that when I make the appointment it will also fire up the wider Yes movement.”

The SNP’s opponents have seized on the announcement to argue the party is more focused on breaking up the United Kingdom than tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scottish Labour constitution spokesman and leadership candidate Anas Sarwar said: “The SNP’s priorities are wrong. Right now, political leaders should be focused on the coronavirus crisis, the vaccination programme and creating stability for the people of Scotland.

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“As we emerge from the pandemic, what is needed is a taskforce on jobs, health and education – not on independence.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP are ramping up their push for indyref2 this year while the rest of Scotland is worried about their jobs and when they’ll get the Covid vaccine.

“They are stuck in the Holyrood bubble with no clue about the priorities of people across Scotland.

“Their shameless push for another referendum this year would wreck our recovery from the pandemic. We need to focus on building up Scotland, not breaking up our country.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “The First Minister promised that the SNP wouldn’t start a referendum in the middle of a pandemic, but off they go. They can’t help themselves.

“Thousands of people are ill with Covid. Business and workers are desperately worried about their immediate future.

“Despite the promises of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, nationalists will always put their own interests first. Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.”

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Pamela Nash, chief executive of the Scotland in Union campaign group, added: “Amid a public health pandemic when people are losing their lives and livelihoods, the idea that we need a taskforce on separation shows just how out of touch the SNP is.

“Imagine thinking that what we need right now is a taskforce focused on dividing communities and building borders, rather than bringing people together and rebuilding our country.

“The SNP is obsessed with how to tear families and friends apart, but we are stronger together as part of the UK and we can ensure a successful recovery by working together.”


Body found in park in search for missing 16-year-old boy

A search was launched for Santino Hogan after he failed to return home on Friday night.

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Police: Santino Hogan disappeared on Friday night.

A body has been found in the search for a missing 16-year-old boy in Perthshire.

Santino Hogan, known as Sonny, was last seen leaving his house in Main Street, Glenfarg, at around 6pm on Friday.

Specialist officers and police dogs joined in the search on Sunday.

At around 2pm, a body was found in a park in Glenfarg.

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Formal identification is yet to take place, however it is believed to be the teenager. His family has been made aware.

The death is not being treated as suspicious.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 2pm on Sunday, January 17, the body of a male was found in a park in Glenfarg.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious and a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.

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“Formal identification is yet to take place however it is believed to be 16-year-old Santino Hogan who had been reported missing from his home in Glenfarg. 

“His family have been made aware.”


Raab: Brexit delays for fishing sector are teething problems

The UK foreign secretary argued the trading agreement will 'create huge, sustainable opportunities' for the fishing sector.

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Fishing sector row: Foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

Delays to fishing exports are just “teething problems” following Brexit, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has claimed.

Challenged about the warning from the seafood sector that fishing businesses could collapse within days, Raab said he was “not convinced” it was because of the Government’s trade deal with the European Union.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Raab argued the trading agreement will “create huge, sustainable opportunities” for the fishing sector.

Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by delays since the UK’s transition period ended on December 31.

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Some Scottish fishermen have been landing their catch in Denmark to avoid the “bureaucratic system” that exports to Europe now involve, according to Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described lorry situation as ‘shameful and disgraceful’.

On land, lorries transporting freshly-caught produce have been held up at distribution hubs and many have struggled to enter into France – a situation which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described as “shameful and disgraceful”.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs that fishing businesses would be compensated for what he described as “temporary frustrations”.

Asked about the potential collapse of parts of the fishing industry because of problems caused by the Brexit deal, Raab said: “I’m not convinced that that is the result of the agreement.

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“The agreement we have struck – short term, medium term and long term – will create huge, sustainable opportunities.

“Of course we have always said as we leave the transition period with a deal, but even more if we hadn’t found a deal, there will be some teething problems.

“We are very focused on working with all the different sectors, including the fishing industry, to resolve any of these teething problems.”

Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael said: “It’s hard to find a minister who will admit to having even sat down and read the trade deal.

“Brexit might be a game to the likes of Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson but for thousands of people in Scotland this is their business and their livelihood on the line.

“The Government needs to get a grip now.

“Fishermen are telling the PM that his deal did not do any of the things he claimed for it, let alone what he had promised.

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“The harder the Tories spin, the angrier fishing communities get. The Government needs to start listening to the people who know what they are talking about and start to clean up the mess that the Prime Minister has created.”


‘Covid has terrorised my family, please take it seriously’

Nikki O'Hara says rule breakers need to take the coronavirus pandemic more seriously.

Nikki O'Hara via Email

“Covid terrifies me and still haunts me and my family. I think this will stay with me for a long, long time.”

Nikki O’Hara, from Strathaven, describes herself as an ordinary working mum, a fit and healthy 53-year-old with no underlying health issues.

On December 17, her son’s 19th birthday, Nikki tested positive for coronavirus.

“My partner, Roger, tested positive and had mild symptoms, so I wasn’t surprised when I got it,” she said.

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“I felt a bit rough for the first few days with a cough, a bit of a headache and a slight temperature.  

“A couple of friends had mentioned getting an oximeter, a wee gadget you attach to your finger to monitor your oxygen saturation levels. 

“I was doing some Christmas shopping online so I popped one in my shopping basket. It probably saved my life.”

Nikki contacted NHS 24 after her temperature spiked and the oximeter showed her oxygen levels were poor. She was then told to get to hospital as soon as possible.

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“The night I went into hospital, Roger went down to England to support his parents as his dad, who had dementia, also had tested positive for Covid,” Nikki explained.

“We didn’t think Covid would kill him but it did, my beautiful father in law died on Christmas Eve. I just felt terrible because I was in hospital and couldn’t support Roger.”

Nikki developed Covid pneumonia, impacting her lungs, and needed antibiotics, steroids and oxygen to help her breathing.

“I spent the next 12 days in hospital terrified and powerless. The other eight ladies who I shared the ward with at various times were all around 50 years old. 

“I had no Christmas or New Year. I had no visitors but I didn’t care. The nurses did their best to reassure me but the terror didn’t leave me.”

While she was in hospital, Nikki’s daughter also tested positive for Covid. The 22-year-old had only mild symptoms.

Nikki slowly began to recover towards New Year and after 12 days in hospital, was allowed home on January 5.

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Still recovering, she struggles to climb the stairs or do small tasks around the house.

“When I got home I was absolutely terrified as in the hospital, all the staff and nurses were always there to support me. I thought I might die during the night,” Nikki admitted.

“I am still scared but I know I am also very lucky. I am alive and I am getting better every day.”

Nikki described the NHS team who cared for her as her “superheroes”.  She said she has decided to share her story in the hope it would act as a wake-up call for people who are bending the rules or believe they will be unaffected by the virus.

“I believed I would be fine if I ever got it. Just a couple of paracetamol and I’d be fine but I wasn’t. This virus respects no one. Young or  old, we are all vulnerable. 

“We need to take it seriously every minute of every day.”

Private firm awarded £2m NHS contract for vaccine support

Scotland’s health service awarded the contract to an accountancy firm for 'management and advisory services'.

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Vaccine rollout: Scotland’s health service has awarded a contract worth more than £2m to an accountancy firm.

Scotland’s health service has awarded a contract worth more than £2m to an accountancy firm for “management and advisory services” on the coronavirus vaccine programme.

The contract is for “extended flu and Covid vaccination programme management and advisory services” and was handed out three months before the first vaccinations began in Scotland.

The Scottish Government gave the £2.32m deal to KPMG without any other competing bids in September because of the “extreme urgency” of the vaccination programme, according to the contract award notice published on Tuesday.

The justification for directly awarding the contract on behalf of NHS Scotland states it was due to “unforeseeable” events.

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It adds the work required is to “meet the additional demands of the Scottish Health and Social Care sector during the current Covid-19 pandemic”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Given the scale of the unprecedented demand on health services and the need to run both the flu and Covid vaccination programme, KPMG were contracted to provide administrative support to NHS and government officials leading on planning and delivery.

“A number of contracts were awarded on a ‘direct’ basis due to extreme urgency.

“NHS National Services Scotland has since transitioned to other ‘open’ tender procedures whenever possible.”

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Commenting on the contract, Scottish Labour’s Neil Findlay told The Sunday Mail: “This is extraordinary – we have the Scottish Government handing over millions to a private sector organisation to tell them how to roll out the vaccine.

“Do they not trust civil servants or the NHS to work out how to do this?”

Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell added: “It might have been better for the Government to empower our local healthcare providers rather than splash millions on external consultants.

“The vaccine rollout is giving people hope right now and they won’t begrudge extra resources being brought in from the private sector.

“The problem is that the SNP and First Minister are failing to be upfront about these contracts.”


Nurses tell of mounting stress on the coronavirus frontline

Frontline workers have raised concerns over staff shortages and issues with PPE.

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Nurses are facing a tough time coping with coronavirus in hospitals.

Nurses have told of the mounting stress they’re facing while trying to cope with coronavirus in hospitals.

Frontline workers told STV News that wards were often short-staffed due to sickness and raised concerns about the quality of personal protective equipment (PPE) they use.

They also said they feared taking the virus home to their families after spending the day with Covid-19 patients.

As of Saturday, 1863 coronavirus patients were being treated in Scotland’s hospitals, including 145 in intensive care.

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Under condition of anonymity, nurses from different health boards admitted they sometimes felt like taking strike action, with one insisting: “We’ve had enough.”

It comes after frontline workers at University Hospital Monklands said the NHS was close to the “edge” and appealed for people to follow restrictions.

One nurse said: “It’s a circle of fear. It doesn’t matter how many get unwell, we work through it until we break.

“We are completely understaffed; staff who are having to isolate, staff going off with PTSD, with stress, completely burnt out because they are working 60-hour weeks.”

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Two charge nurses said they only had basic PPE, gloves, visors, masks and aprons, and that they felt unprotected amid the new strain of the virus, which has sparked a rise in cases.

One said: “I don’t know what the solution is, but they need to start protecting us. It’s in our nature to preserve life, this is out of control.”

A number of health boards – including Ayrshire and Arran, Borders and Lanarkshire – have postponed all non-urgent surgery to focus resources on coronavirus, such is the scale of the situation in hospitals.

Frontline workers said it had left them feeling overwhelmed, putting increasing pressure on mental health support services.

One charge nurse said: “I go home and cry at the end of every shift. Everyone is trying to work together, but you can see morale going down.”

Trying to care for multiple Covid patients who can’t be seen by their own families has left some nurses feeling helpless.

“People are crying, they are so lonely, saying they don’t want to be here anymore because they are so lonely,” one nurse said.

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“You have to split your time between them. You are watching them struggling to breath, there is nothing you can do.”

Union leaders said frontline health workers had been “consistently let down” during the pandemic.

Drew Duffy, public services organiser for GMB Scotland, said: “The truth is that many workers have little-to-no confidence that their safety is being prioritised.

“They were told that Scotland was prepared for Covid-19, but from PPE to testing, and now the first wave of the vaccination programme, they have been consistently let down.

“We are closing in on the first anniversary of this pandemic, but instead of listening to and supporting these workers, it looks increasingly like the Scottish Government and health boards are managing the message.

“That’s not good enough. Workers’ voices need to be heard, their safety needs to be prioritised and their value recognised.”

The Scottish Government was approached for comment.

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