A LONG-AWAITED report used by Nicola Sturgeon to avoid saying when she personally knew Covid-infected patients were moved into Scotland’s care homes has been delayed.

Public Health Scotland had been due to report on the scale of the problem on Wednesday.

However the analysis has been postponed for at least a month due to “data quality issues”.

The Scottish Tories called it "an outrage and an insult" to grieving families waiting for answers.

Ms Sturgeon repeatedly used the prospect of publication to sidestep questions about what she knew about a practice condemned her critics called “almost beyond belief”.

It followed the Sunday Post revealing in August that at least 37 delayed discharge patients in five health boards were knowingly transferred into homes despite testing positive for Covid in the early phase of the pandemic.

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

At the time, the Scottish Government was pressing for delayed discharge patients to be cleared from wards in order to free up beds in readiness for a surge in Covid cases.

Almost half of Scotland's Covid deaths have been in care homes, and there are fears the mass movement of delayed discharge patients seeded the infection in care homes.

Althoughly newly transferred patients were supposed to be isolated within homes, care premises often struggled with inadequate PPE and infections were widespread. 

After the Sunday Post story broke, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman ordered Public Health Scotland to study the issue.

She told MSPs on 18 August: “I have today asked Public Health Scotland to work with boards to produce validated statistics and analysis on the number of patients who tested positive for Covid19 and were subsequently admitted to a care home. 

“That includes examining how many were assessed as being discharged when they were considered to be infectious, and the rationales that were in place for such a discharge, for example in the case of palliative care concerns.”

Two days later, the First Minister put a timescale on the work, telling FMQs: “Public Health Scotland is working towards providing that data by the end of September.” 

Asked at a daily briefing simply to when she personally knew patients had been moved after testing positive, Ms Sturgeon said: “I don’t have that information” and cited the report.

She said: “A Public Health Scotland analysis, we have asked for that to be complete by the end of September, and that will be set out to parliament.

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

However Public Health Scotland this afternoon said the work had been postponed, as it would involve the complex marrying together of previously disparate data sets.

Its website said: “On 30 September, Public Health Scotland were due to release a publication on Discharges from NHS hospitals to care homes between 1 March and 31 May 2020. 

“However, whilst undertaking the analyses PHS identified a number of data quality issues that need resolved. 

“PHS has, therefore, made the decision to delay this publication until the 28 October to allow further data quality assurance work to be undertaken, in collaboration with NHS Boards. 

“This work links together several different datasets for the first time and we need to incorporate, where possible and appropriate, feedback from NHS Boards to ensure accuracy. 

“Our plans for the publication on the 28 October are to have two complementary reports: one reporting on the statistics; and the other providing the wider narrative to contextualise the statistics. 

“PHS are collaborating with clinical experts from University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh. PHS are collaborating with clinical experts from University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP are not giving the scandal in our care homes the attention it deserves. 

“They won’t own up to what went wrong and now they won’t publish key information on time. 

“They repeatedly promised that this report would be published by the end of September but we’re now looking at even more delays. 

“This is an outrage and an insult to all those grieving families who will be waiting another month for answers.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “This is yet another example of the SNP dodging accountability on the scandal that has happened in our care homes.

"Almost half of the people who have died from this terrible virus were in care homes and the transmission of the illness was undoubtedly exacerbated by the transfer of patients from hospital. 

"Their families deserve to know what happened and this report cannot be kicked into the long grass.

"As cases of Covid-19 continue to increase we need confidence that the Scottish Government have learned the lessons from mistakes made at the start of the pandemic but that is not possible if the Scottish Government is not transparent.” 

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “This further delay lends further support for an quick independent inquiry into the first six months of the pandemic so we can quickly learn the lessons. 

"No matter how accurate the claims of genuine problems with the data, people will doubt the intentions of a government that clearly made mistakes with the transfer of Covid positive people into care homes.”