JEANE FREEMAN was “unaware” of ‘crucial information’ in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, a Westminster committee has heard.

The Health Secretary was said not to have been told about certain issues with PPE prior to discussions with a trade union.

The claims were made by NHS Fife’s employee director and activist for Unison Wilma Brown during a meeting of the Scottish affairs committee today.

Ms Brown told MPs:  “I did find that sometimes the guidance that came out, especially in the early days, the Cabinet Secretary wasn't always informed of everything that was going on.

“Because in Unison we also had regular telephone conferences with the cabinet secretary, and there were a number of things that I raised to her around PPE that she was not aware of.

“I think that she's as good as what she's told but I don't think she was always told everything that was going on.”

She was responding to a question by Conservative MP John Lamont about whether it was the Scottish or UK Government who were mainly giving care providers directions, and how good the communication had been.

Douglas Ross MP, and Scottish Conservatives leader, asked Ms Brown for further details on her remarks later.

He said: “How concerning, during a pandemic, was that to you and your members that perhaps the cabinet secretary for health in Scotland was not fully briefed, not fully aware, of crucial issues you were bringing to the table?

She replied: “Very concerning. Very concerning that she was not aware. I spoke generally in that comment, but [a] specific [example] would be, she was not aware of the PPE situation at its worst. “So I think that that was extremely concerning and I wondered why on earth she was not given that information. Certainly when I gave her some information, things moved very quickly.

The committee also heard about the challenges with testing for social care staff, with Scottish Care chief executive Donald Macaskill telling MPs the current situation was “wholly unacceptable”

He said: “ I think it has been well publicised in the last 10 days to 14 days real challenge with the UK Social Care portal.

“As of this morning the helpline of that portal is saying that there is an expectation of six to seven days before you get your result back. Now that is wholly, and utterly unacceptable.

“I have had discussions with the cabinet secretary and the testing unit at the Scottish Government and they are seeking to maximise the ability of NHS Scotland  to undertake more tests in Scotland. “We're very well aware of the pressure on the UK portal system and there isn't sufficient ability utilising that resource alone to give the carehome sector in Scotland the confidence that we can get the turnarounds to enable staff to be tested, get the result and be at work in a safe manner.”
Mr Macaskill also said he thought the "worried well" were taking coronavirus testing capacity which should be reserved for care workers, and added that care workers must have priority.

Theresa Fyffe, Director at the Royal College of Nursing Scotland spoke about the government's recent immigration changes and how that would impact the care sector.
She said: "We expect the UK Government to ensure that internationally educated nurses are supported to work in the UK, and therefore call for them to continue to be exempt from the salary threshold and to be included on any shortage, or priority occupations.

"I am shocked that we equate a lower salary as somehow low skilled, so if you#re paid more you look like you have a higher skill.

"If you have ever experienced the care of a care worker, care worker team working with registered nurses in end of life care of somebody, I would defy anyone to say that is a low skill. 

"That is the most fundamental point of somebody's life, end of life, that when they are cared for in the way that I have seen that is not what I would describe them as." 

Ms Fyffe said the industry was facing "significant workforce shortages for nursing support workers across all health and care sectors."