Former health secretary and Michael Gove due to appear before Covid inquiry

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been sitting in Edinburgh in recent weeks.

Craig Paton
Monday 29 January 2024 02:45 GMT
Jeane Freeman will appear before the inquiry on Monday (Jeff J Mitchell/PA)
Jeane Freeman will appear before the inquiry on Monday (Jeff J Mitchell/PA) (PA Archive)

Former Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will appear before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Monday.

Ms Freeman served in the post from the beginning of the pandemic before she left Holyrood following the 2021 election.

Among the decisions Ms Freeman was involved in during her time in the cabinet was the discharge of hospital patients to care homes without testing them for the virus.

According to evidence heard earlier in the inquiry – which is currently sitting in Edinburgh as it probes the Scottish Government response – 82% of the 3,595 patients discharged between March 1 and April 21 2020 were not tested for the virus.

A Public Health Scotland report in 2020 also found more than 100 people who had previously tested positive for the virus were admitted from hospital to a care home before returning a negative test.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has described the situation as “one of the worst atrocities of the pandemic”, as he called for answers for the families of the bereaved.

“Jeane Freeman and Nicola Sturgeon were responsible for this decision and this week they will have the opportunity to give families the answers they deserve,” he said.

In Scotland, the inquiry has placed a focus on the retention of informal messages by Scottish Government ministers and officials.

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s messages were deleted, with some being handed over by other witnesses who corresponded with her, while her former deputy John Swinney was also unable to provide messages.

A table submitted to the inquiry shows Ms Freeman has retained “some” messages, including from a WhatsApp group of health secretaries from all four nations of the UK, although it goes on to say there was “no other WhatsApp groups or other informal messaging with key decision-makers”.

Mr Gove served as a Cabinet Office minister during the pandemic, with a focus on intergovernmental relations.

The inquiry is expected to quiz Mr Gove on how the Scottish and UK Governments worked together.

The latest hearing comes against the backdrop of a mounting political storm, with opposition politicians making demands of the Scottish Government.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross urged First Minister Humza Yousaf to refer himself for investigation under the ministerial code after he told journalists last year he had not deleted WhatsApp messages relating to the pandemic.

It later transpired the First Minister did delete his messages in line with Government guidance, but was able to retrieve them from an old phone.

Meanwhile, Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton made a similar call in relation to the lack of minutes from so-called “gold command” meetings held between senior ministers and officials.

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