AROUND 1800 people could have been infected with coronavirus during the hospital outbreaks which killed 218 patients in Scotland, Jeane Freeman has revealed.

The Health Secretary told MSPs that 894 staff had been identified with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, on top of around 900 patients. 

The disclosure prompted the Scottish Tories to step up calls for her dismissal.

Last week, Ms Freeman intially said there had been 125 "incidents" of Covid on non-Covid wards between March 18 and June 3, but did not say how many people were involved. 

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The number was widely interpreted as meaning 125 patients.

However, after pressure from The Herald, the Scottish Government later said the 125 incidents had involved 908 patients who had been admitted for other conditions, 218 of whom had died.

The numbers raised fears about the disease spreading inside hospitals, and led to accusations that the Government had not been transparent. 

At Holyrood today, Scottish Tory Miles Briggs clashed with Ms Freeman over why the full details had not disclosed at the outset. 

Ms Freeman said the data has been unvalidated, and she had published it in an effort to be helpful, but said she would not be doing so again.

She stressed it was not yet possible to say if all the patients had been infected in hospital, or whether some had arrived at hospital already carrying the infection.

She also revised the 908 figure down slightly to 901.

She said: “Details of the total number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each NHS board are published daily. 

“Last week we published initial unvalidated data on the number of suspected nosocomial [hospital-acquired] Covid-19 incidents.

“The challenge is that in all of the data on nosocomial infection it is not yet clear whether all of the individuals contracted the infection in the community prior to admission or within hospital.

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“This unvalidated information is a compilation of reports from health boards and shows that there have been 125 Covid-19 incidents which are associated at the moment with a potential 901 patient cases, of which 870 are confirmed Covid-19 and 31 are suspected, and sadly 218 deaths.

“In addition, the same unvalidated information indicates 894 staff cases including both confirmed and suspected Covid-19.

“However this position is very far from definitive at the moment, not least due to the long incubation period of Covid-19.”

Ms Freeman also defined an incident as meaning an outbreak involving “two or more cases”, meaning there could be more uncounted single cases on non-Covid wards. 

A probable healthcare-acquired case of Covid means a positive sample taken when an individual has been in a non-Covid ward for seven to 14 days, and a definite case when a positive sample is taken more than 14 days after admission.

Mr Briggs was jeered by SNP MSPs when he said Ms Freeman should apologise to families for the “misleading picture” that had developed around the spread of Covid in hospital wards.

He said: “Why did ministers decide to define almost 1,000 people as incidents? Will she now commit to publishing more accurate figures so that Parliament can have the true picture of what is happening in hospitals?”

Ms Freeman replied: “In publishing unvalidated data, I was attempting to be helpful. It is a lesson that I have now learned.

“These are suspected transmissions, suspected cases and suspected deaths linked to them, and the validated data will be published by the end of the month, I hope.

“Mr Briggs has chosen to take unvalidated data and pretend that it is validated. 

“That is inexcusable. If anyone needs to apologise to the people of Scotland for sending them off with unvalidated nonsense, it is Mr Briggs. It is certainly not me.”

In a series of bad-tempered exchanges, Ms Freeman also ticked Mr Briggs off for "mumbling at me; he should be listening".

Mr Briggs said later: “Little did we know that when the Health Secretary admitted there were 125 incidents of hospital acquired covid last week, she actually meant almost 2,000 - 901 patients and 894 staff.

“While we have long known the risks that our brave doctors and nurses undertake when they treat Covid victims, the lack of PPE within hospitals simply will not have helped.

“These revelations simply underline the importance of testing NHS staff, although the Health Secretary still hasn’t been able to give a date for when that will commence.

“Nicola Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman should hang their heads in shame for the games they have played to prevent MSPs getting the truth for families.

“The Health Secretary has failed patients, staff and care homes, she must resign.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon reminded Ms Freeman and Mr Briggs that “arguments in the chamber will not bring back the people who caught Covid-19 in hospital and went on to die”.

She said an independent inquiry was needed.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the drip-drip way the information had been disclosed had “shaken my confidence in what the Government is telling us”. 

Ms Freeman denied the Government had been trying to hide the problem.

She said: “Health boards report suspected hospital-acquired infections on the basis of incidents. An incident is two or more cases. 

“There was no attempt to dissemble.

“That is how the information comes in, and that is what was reported. As soon as the question was asked as to how many people that might have involved, the information was given straight away; again, there was no attempt to dissemble.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone called the lack routine testing for hospital staff “indefensible”. 

The Scottish Government has been asked if any of the 894 staff have died.