NICOLA Sturgeon has appeared to accept that transferring hundreds of untested patients out of hospitals to care homes contributed to the scale of the coronavirus crisis.

The First Minister said that with the benefit of hindsight she would “come to a different conclusion” about moving so many vulnerable people without testing them for the virus.

The transfers took place when the Scottish Government was desperate to free hospital beds in anticipation of a “tsunami” of coronavirus patients.

The First Minister said the rate of deaths in care homes was "heartbreaking and will haunt many of us for a long time to come".

Almost half the 3546 deaths in Scotland attributed to Covid-19 have have been in home cares.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman admitted last week that 921 delayed discharge patients - elderly people fit enough to leave hospital but without somewhere suitable to go - were moved to care homes in March alone.

Amid fears the transfers could spread the virus across Scotland’s 1000 or so care homes, opposition parties demanded mandatory testing for would-be residents for weeks.

However the Scottish Government did not bring in mandatory testing until April 21.

On BBC Radio Scotland, Ms Sturgeon denied officials or ministers had been reckless, and had acted in accordance with the best information available at the time.

However she conceded that hindsight put the transfers in a different light.  

She also claimed leaving those elderly people in hospital may exposed them to “enormous risk”, despite the superior PPE and infection control regimes in hospitals. 

Asked if she believed that sending more than 900 untested hospital patients into care homes may have been a contributory factor in the crisis, she said: “If I apply hindsight to that, I come to a different conclusion. 

“But let me tell you the situation we were faced with at the time. These older people you’re talking about, the so-called delayed discharges, had no medical need to be in hospital.

“At that point we were getting ready for what we considered would be a tsunami or coronavirus cases to our hospitals, and hospitals as it turned out were under huge pressure.

“It would have exposed older people to enormous risk to leave them in hospitals at that point.

“People say there should have been more testing, and that again is a legitimate question.

“But again, what we knew then about the efficacy of testing of asymptomatic people is different to what we know now. “There’s still questions about the reliability of testing there.

“So what we did was put in place risk assessment, guidance in care homes.

“At every stage we have done what we thought was best, based on the knowledge we had at the time.

“Of course mistakes will have been made, and we learn as our knowledge of this virus increases. But the suggestion that any of us just acted recklessly or without due care and attention to older people is frankly one that is not true.”

The First Minister said she expected the issue of care homes would be examined by abn inquiry or inquiries in future.

At the Scottish Government daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon backed away from her morning comments, claiming she had been talking about making different decisions "in general terms" despite being asked very specifically about the 921 delayed discharge transfers.

Scottish Labour said reports of another 14 deaths at a care home in Tullibody highlighted the scale of the crisis in homes.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Serious questions need to be answered by the Scottish Government about the delayed discharge policy at the beginning of this pandemic and also the impact that a lack of Personal Protective Equipment and testing has had on the spread of the virus in care homes.

“At a time when we should have been protecting the most vulnerable in our society, it appears that in a rush to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, care homes were badly let down.

“From the beginning, it was known that elderly people are more vulnerable to the virus, therefore it was inexcusable to discharge patients into care homes without first testing them - a policy that was in place for six weeks.”