Nicola Sturgeon said she initially wanted her chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood to stay in post despite a "very serious" Covid rule breach.

Dr Calderwood resigned on April 5 2020, hours after a Sunday newspaper revealed that she had twice flouted a stay-at-home lockdown to travel from her family home in Edinburgh to spend the weekend at a holiday property in Eastferry, Fife.

Giving evidence to the UK Covid inquiry, Ms Sturgeon said she was first notified about the breach on the evening of Saturday April 4 when she was telephoned by a special advisor who had taken a phonecall from the newspaper seeking a comment.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I immediately understood that there would be significant public anger about this and that that would have to be addressed, and Dr Calderwood would have to very clearly apologise and be very clear that she had made a mistake.

"The other consideration was, we were at this very early but still pivotal stage in the pandemic and a period of decision-making that was very fast-paced - we had to respond very quickly to things.

"We had begun to settle into - internally, in government decision-making - more of a rhythm of doing things in terms of the advice and Dr Calderwood was a key part of that.

"She was the key conduit of clinical advice to me - I had trust in her and she was a key part of the communication effort, therefore I was mindful of how disruptive it would be to suddenly, in those circumstances, lose a chief medical officer."


Dr Calderwood has been released from giving evidence at the inquiry due to medical reasons.

Ms Sturgeon said initially hoped to "achieve two things" by addressing the public anger over Dr Calderwood's "very serious error", while also seeking to retain Dr Calderwood in her post of CMO to avoid disrupting the government's pandemic response.

By this time, Dr Calderwood had become a fixture in the Scottish Government's daily Covid briefings and was a key player in its public health messaging.

However, Ms Sturgeon said as Sunday April 5 unfolded she "began to realise I couldn't achieve those two things, and that continuing to try to achieve the latter would seriously undermine trust in the government's message and I had to prioritise the confidence in the government messaging".

By the time Ms Sturgeon spoke to Dr Calderwood by phone that evening to ask for her resignation, she said Dr Calderwood had already reached that decision herself.

Taking a thinly-veiled swipe at the UK Government and Dominic Cummings infamous trip to Barnard Castle, Ms Sturgeon added: "It is to her credit that she at that point was very clear with me that the confidence in the public messaging had to take precedence, and I think it perhaps stands in contrast to other incidents."

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence to the UK Covid inquiry on January 31 2024Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence to the UK Covid inquiry on January 31 2024 (Image: PA)

Ms Sturgeon conceded that her efforts to retain Dr Calderwood initially may have "given the impression to other advisors that I thought the loss of her would be so catastrophic that they felt I didn't value their advice or their input", but she insisted: "That wasn't the case".

Jamie Dawson KC, lead counsel to the inquiry in Scotland, suggested that Dr Calderwood's resignation and the outcry surrounding it had been a "cataclysmic event" which hampered the Scottish Government's ability to respond to the growing threat of Covid and "had an enormous effect on the public's confidence" in government.

Ms Sturgeon said: "It had the potential to do both of those things. I don't believe it did either.

"Had Dr Calderwood not resigned on that Sunday evening, I believe in terms of confidence in the public messaging it may well have had that impact.

"I would suggest the evidence through public attitudes and public polling after that suggests that it didn't have that effect.

"I think her resignation stemmed the potential for that, and on the first - it did have a disruptive effect but it was one we were able to overcome reasonably quickly."