HEALTH Secretary Jeane Freeman has defended the Scottish Government after an investigation revealed that Scotland’s care watchdog was warned more than 170 times about staff shortages at care homes amid the Covid-19 crisis - insisting extra workers were made available if needed.

BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme discovered that between April 3 and June 17, when care homes were required to inform the Care Inspectorate of staff shortages, 179 notifications were issued.

READ MORE: Care Inspectorate was warned 179 times over Scottish care home staff shortages

Freedom of Information requests by the programme revealed 30 red warnings were sent between these dates, indicating an insufficient number of staff to properly meet residents’ needs.

Care homes issued 149 amber alerts in the same period, indicating resources were stretched and staffing levels were close to affecting the quality of care.

According to the latest figures from the National Records of Scotland, between March 16 and July 19 there were 2,365 (54 per cent) more deaths in Scotland’s care homes than average.

Covid-19 was the underlying cause in 1,873 (79 per cent) of these excess deaths.

Ms Freeman was quizzed on the findings by Holyrood’s Covid Committee.

Convener of the committee, Murdo Fraser, said: “This was at a period, of course, when a lot of these homes were under pressure to receive patients being discharged from the NHS, who we now know were coming into care homes without being tested for Covid-19.

“This has obviously caused a great deal of concern in the sector and concern for both the care home residents and for families.”

Ms Freeman said she had not seen the evidence the reports are based on.

She added: “I don’t accept that care homes were under pressure to accept people coming out of hospital during that period.

“Care homes and hospitals have always had an obligation to undertake a clinical assessment of both the individual’s readiness to be discharged, in other words there is no more hospital treatment that is required.

“We all understand that staying in hospital longer than your clinical needs require you to be there is not the ideal place for anyone, but in particular for elderly citizens.

“It is in the care home’s interest to ensure that they are ready to receive that individual and they have all appropriate measures and steps in place, including arrangements for any ongoing medical care that the person might need.”

The Health Secretary said that the Scottish Government had made additional staff available through a portal to care homes who needed them.

She added: “Where there are flags in terms of staff shortages, of course during this period, over at least part of this period, we did have that portal available with a significant number of experienced social care staff that we were making available to care home providers to use if their rotas were either in jeopardy or a little unstable or because they needed to have additional staff in order to implement the guidance we had issued on additional infection prevention and control measures that they should be putting in place.”