NICOLA Sturgeon has distanced herself from notorious Scottish Government advice that care home residents with coronavirus should not be moved to hospital.

The First Minister said the guidance, which was only withdrawn from the Government’s website last month, had been provided by clinicians, not politicians.

She told MSPs: “It is not prepared by ministers; I am not qualified to give clinical advice.”

It followed Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard calling the instruction “one of the greatest scandals of the pandemic”.

The accusation coincided with new National Records of Scotland data showing more than half of all 4,119 Covid deaths in Scotland so far have been of care home residents.

Other figures showed only a third of care home staff being tested for Covid last week despite health secretary Jeane Freeman announcing weekly testing for all in mid-May.

Only around 15,000 of the 53,000 staff were tested in the week commencing June 15, either through NHS boards or the Scottish social care portal.

Ms Sturgeon has called the tests “ongoing”, and refused to say when all staff will be tested.

At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Leonard asked Ms Sturgeon about more than 50 per cent of Covid deaths occurring among the 0.7% of the population in care homes.  

He said: “We do not need hindsight to tell us that, at a time in their lives when they were at their most susceptible and in need of greatest help, those most vulnerable people were badly let down.”

Ms Sturgeon said the Government had always “taken steps to protect older people in care homes as best we can”, and cited various guidance to care homes as an example. 

Mr Leonard then reminded her of the care home guidance in force until May 15 that residents should not be treated in hospital if they were suspected of having Covid.

He raised the case of Margaret Laidlaw, who was moved to a care home in Midlothian in April, where she caught the virus and died within weeks aged 65.

He said: “She was kept in the home and her family were told that, because of the Government’s policy, she would not be treated in hospital. 

“Margaret’s family are angry. They want to know why the care home was so unprepared and why hospital care was not available.

"Sadly, Margaret’s story has been all too common. 

“What does the First Minister have to say to Margaret’s family and families like them? 

“Does she regret that it took so long for the Government’s official advice to be replaced?” 

Ms Sturgeon said it was “simply wrong” to say a Government policy stopped individuals being admitted to hospital, and it was clinicians who decided the best location for people.

But Mr Leonard then quoted the clinical guidance from the Scottish Government website.

It said: “It is not advised that residents in long term care are admitted to hospital for ongoing management but are managed within their current setting.” 

He said: “That is what it says. That has been one of the greatest scandals of the pandemic.”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “Richard Leonard has read from clinical advice. I make the serious point that clinical advice is prepared by clinicians who advise the Government.

“It is not prepared by ministers; I am not qualified to give clinical advice. 

“The chief medical officer - with the chief medical officer’s office - acts independently in such matters, on the basis of clinical knowledge and expertise. 

“Advice is given to cover the generality of a situation. My point - which many clinicians will make - was that it is often not in the best interests of an older person to go into hospital when they can be better cared for in their own home.

“Fundamentally, however, decisions about care lie in the hands of individual clinicians. 

“That is as it should be, as it has been, and as it always will be.” 

After May 15, the advice on the Government’s website was changed to say a transfer to a hospital “should take place” following clinical assessment that it was in the best interest of the individual, in keeping with their choices and where the level of care required could not be met in the care home.