NICOLA Sturgeon has refused to say when she first learned that hospital patients were moved into care homes despite testing positive for Covid, even suggesting it may never have happened.

Asked about her personal knowledge of the hugely controversial practice, the First Minister said: “I don’t have that information.”

Earlier this month, based on freedom of information requests, the Sunday Post reported that at least 37 patients in five health boards were knowingly moved from hospitals to care homes after testing positive early in the pandemic.

At the time, ministers were keen to move delayed discharge patients into care homes to free up beds in readiness for a surge in Covid cases.

The opposition parties said the practice was “almost beyond belief”, given it could have exposed staff and residents to the virus.

Almost half of Scotland’s 4,213 Covid deaths have been in homes.

The Government had previously confirmed 1,431 untested patients were moved to care homes March 1 and April 21, before testing new residents became mandatory.

However freedom of information requests found 300 patients were tested prior to discharge, 37 of whom were positive but were still transferred to care homes while potentially infectious.

The largest number were were in NHS Ayrshire & Arran (17), then NHS Grampian (7), Tayside (6), Fife (4) and Lanarkshire (3).

Asked at FMQs on Wednesday when she first knew Covid-positive patients were transferred to homes, Ms Sturgeon sidestepped the question by saying she didn’t know about individual cases.

She told Holyrood Tory leader Ruth Davidson: “I do not know the clinical condition of patients who are being discharged from hospital to their homes, community settings or care homes. That is not information that ministers would have.”

At the daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon was asked simply when she first knew, without reference to clinical details, that some Covid-positive patients were moved into homes.

She replied “I don’t have that information” and then immediately switched to talking about a wider research project.

Pushed on whether she knew of the practice before the Sunday Post report, she said: “We have asked Public Health Scotland to do the analysis that gives us the information that people are asking for.

“So when - if - patients were discharged from care homes when they had Covid; whether, if that is the case, then whether in those cases they were discharged after they had recovered from Covid or whether they were discharged into care homes when they had Covid.

“If, in the latter situation, what were the reasons for that. Was there a clinical rationale for that.

“Now, we are, I think the only government in the UK that has commissioned an in-depth analysis of this that will enable us to provide that information in full.

“And I actually think that is the right thing to do.

“But I am not party to clinical decisions that are taken, and that’s not about naming people, it’s about not being party to any of the clinical decisions that are being taken.”

“But I want to understand the decisions that are made over the course of this and what the implications of those might be so that we can be accountable for that.

“But also so that we can learn any lessons.”

She said Public Health Scotland would complete its work by the end of next month, and it would be set out to Holyrood.

She said: “It is important for us to do that so that I have the understanding and I can share the understanding with others.”

Ms Sturgeon has promised a public inquiry into the handling of the Covid crisis, but set no date.