Portrayal that we wilfully discharged vulnerable to death sentence ‘hurts’, former health secretary

Former health secretary Jeane Freeman has said the opponents portraying the discharge of patients into care homes as a “death sentence” hurt her personally.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government sought to free up as much space in hospitals as possible, but concerns were later raised that moving older people from hospital to care homes could create outbreaks.

A report released last year by Public Health Scotland found more than 100 patients were discharged after a positive test, but the First Minister said the size of the care home was more of an indicator of outbreak risk than hospital discharge.

The Scottish Government came under heavy scrutiny from political opponents over the move.

On the Politically Speaking podcast, produced by Holyrood Magazine, the ex-health secretary was asked how she felt about the political repercussions of the move, with host Mandy Rhodes saying it had been portrayed as the Scottish Government “meaningfully and wilfully discharged vulnerable old people into care homes to a death sentence”.

Ms Freeman (pictured), who retired at this year’s election, said: “It hurts – I don’t think there’s any other way of describing it.

“It hurts at a personal level, that anyone would think that I would do such a thing and it makes me angry, because it’s not fair.

“It makes me angry because it is a wilful re-writing of a history that they were part of.”

Ms Freeman said there was pressure put on the Scottish Government before the pandemic to sort out delayed discharges – which would result in people staying in hospital after they were cleared to leave because there was nowhere to discharge them to.

She added: “A bit of me gets it. I just think politicians need to step up a bit in these circumstances.

“I get what it is to be in opposition, I get what it is to criticise government and imply that you would have done it better.

“But actually, the factual record indicates the decisions I was taking at that point were decisions that were not being criticised by opposition parties and now they take a different view – that is for them to reconcile with themselves – but it makes me angry because it’s not fair and it’s unjust and it hurts, at a personal level it hurts.”

Asked if the Scottish Government wanted to test everyone as they were leaving hospital, the former health secretary said “ideally” that would have happened.

But she added: “That was not the situation we had at the outset.”

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