Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has announced she will not be seeking re-election next year. Freeman joins Mike Russell, Aileen Campbell and Roseanna Cunningham in being the latest Minister to announce that she will be stepping down.
“While I have a great deal of energy left and more I want to do, I think it is the right time for me to stand aside and let another take forward the work as an MSP for this constituency,” she said.
Freeman has also made comments about the negative impact of a “toxic” social media culture, aimed particularly at female politicians. She has had nasty comments made about her age and appearance, which she said had particularly affected her family.
“We must say it will not be tolerated,” Freeman said. “We have come a long way in terms of feminism and equality but we are not there yet.”
The Health Secretary also reflected on the care homes crisis, saying there would have been things she would have done differently if she could start over again, such as introducing testing for patients being discharged from hospitals into care homes.
“If I knew then what I know now, we would have been testing people earlier than April when we started it,” she said.
“Testing was happening but it was not a requirement, as it is now, that any patient who has been in hospital for Covid has to give two negative tests before they are discharged and other admissions have to give one negative test.
“In the early days, there was a view that people without symptoms probably weren’t infectious. The advice we got at the time is the advice we made the best decision we could on. If we were doing it all again, I would also be introducing the testing of care home workers from the outset. I don’t believe the evidence existed back in March that would have led us to take that view then.”
Source Direct has previously highlighted Sage advice on 4 February stating “asymptomatic transmission cannot be ruled out”, and a 16 March paper from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention confirming pre-symptomatic transmission, so ‘we didn’t know’ is not really good enough. At some point there will need to be answers as to why the evidence which did exist either didn’t reach Ministers, was ignored or wasn’t acted on.
The Sunday Post story on Sunday which revealed a leaked 10 April letter from Freeman to health boards praising them for their “tremendous progress” in meeting the “challenging” end of April target of reducing delayed discharges by 900 – a letter which makes no comment about the need for testing of those patients – indicates that nearly half-way into April the government’s focus was still on freeing up hospital space. The letter also once again brings into question the Scottish Government’s attempt last week to distance itself from discharge decisions from hospitals to care homes, with Freeman and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying it is a decision for clinicians. BMA Scotland chair Dr Lewis Morrison commented that hospital discharge decisions are “a complex mix of multidisciplinary clinical decision-making” including “Scottish Government policy and directives”.
Responding, Freeman said there was no secret that reducing delayed discharge at the start of the pandemic was a priority, but that the only reason the letter did not mention the risks of moving people without testing from hospitals to care homes was because health board chiefs already had “enough advice to shake a stick at”. Hmmm.
More positive is Freeman’s advocacy of getting the profit motive out of social care.
“I have never been in favour of health care being delivered for profit and I can’t see an argument that says that social care is different,” she said.
With the Health Secretary now stepping down next year, she could be a powerful independent advocate for a public-led transformation of social care that is so clearly needed.
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