NICOLA Sturgeon has cast doubt on figures suggesting the proportion of coronavirus deaths in Scottish care homes is almost double that of elsewhere in the UK.

The First Minister pointed to an academic study that found care home deaths in England and Wales may have been substantially underreported.

It came as Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said the SNP Government's approach to coronavirus testing in care homes has been an “abject failure”.

During First Minister's Questions, he said early mistakes "have led to the excess deaths we see today".

Both he and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard quoted figures indicating Scotland has almost double the proportion of care home deaths than elsewhere in the UK.

Data from the National Records of Scotland showed almost half of the 3,213 deaths linked to coronavirus in Scotland up to May 10 (1,438) have been in care homes.

This compares to the latest statistics from the Office of National Statistics for England and Wales, which said 8,312, or 24.9%, of the 33,408 Covid-related deaths there up to May 1 had been in care homes.

However a new study from the London School of Economics suggests the true figure could be more than 22,000, putting it on a similar level to deaths in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon cited this study and expressed doubt over the apparent gulf.

She said: "There has been a study published this morning by academics at the London School of Economics that suggests that in England and Wales, the real care home death toll is double what the official figures are showing.

"Now, this is not some kind of competition. Any death toll in care homes or anywhere else is too high and all of us are working to get that down.

"But I am confident that the figures we are publishing in Scotland are accurate.

"I'm not sure that's the case for elsewhere in the UK right now, but it is not for me to speak to those figures."

The First Minister said Scotland's figures are in line with many other countries.

She said the study suggests the disparity is due to "underreporting in the rest of the UK and that Scotland’s figures—which are more in line with international examples—are accurate".

She added: "I caution people against coming to the conclusion, which has now been articulated twice in the chamber, that the number is double in Scotland, because I do not believe that that is true.

"If there is a disparity, I think that it comes from a problem in reporting elsewhere, not from the reality of the position here, in Scotland."

Elsewhere, Mr Carlaw raised the example of Highgate care home in Uddingston, where 22 residents have died.

It was reported that carers there are still waiting to be tested, and are fearful they are the ones who have brought the deadly infection into the facility.

The Scottish Tory leader said fixing testing "must become this Government's overriding focus, and it's clear it hasn't been".

He said: "It's also clear that the Government could have been more transparent about what it was doing for care homes in the early days of the outbreak.

"Mistakes were made at the start and they have led to the excess deaths we see today.

"In light of the tragedy in Uddingston and elsewhere, does the First Minister agree that when it comes to testing and care homes, by any standards, there has been a failure?"

Ms Sturgeon said she did not agree.

She said: "Speaking not as First Minister but as a human being, I deeply regret every single death from this virus. I think that all of us are in that position.

"The very first time that I stood in this chamber to talk about what we were dealing with, I said that mistakes would be made.

"I said that I would make mistakes and that the Government would make mistakes, and I am sure that that is the case.

"We are dealing with an unprecedented situation. Not a day goes by—probably not an hour goes by right now—when I do not question myself and agonise over the decisions that we are taking, in order to ensure that we learn as we go and that we get decisions as right as possible."

Earlier, she said testing in care homes has been driven by clinical advice.

She said: "In recent weeks, we have increased testing in care homes, so in care homes where there is an outbreak, we now have testing of all residents and staff, whether or not they are symptomatic of the virus.

"Those efforts in testing and in infection prevention and control are driven by the leadership of public health directors in each health board area.

"We now have enhanced surveillance in care homes where there are cases of the virus and surveillance across all care homes.

"We will look carefully into concerns that are raised about individual care homes and discuss with public health directors, local health protection teams and the Care Inspectorate whether there are issues that require to be addressed, and, if there are, we will address them urgently."

Ms Sturgeon said the situation in care homes around the world "has been one of the most distressing factors of a very distressing situation".

She said: "We are also in the process—as many countries are—of moving into the test, trace, isolate phase, in which the approach to testing is different.

"The capacity that we are building now is to prepare for that, and the approach to testing then becomes completely different."

The First Minister added: "My overriding focus is to protect the population of this country as best I can against what we know is a potentially deadly virus, and to err on the side of caution and make decisions in a very careful and considered way to ensure that we reduce, as far as possible, the number of people who die from this virus—and certainly the number who die unnecessarily."