SNP ministers have been told to clarify whether they exerted pressure on public health officials after suggestions a publication into Covid care home deaths was allegedly delayed until after May’s election and has still never been made available.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) was expected to publish a report into care home deaths relating to Covid-19 on March 24, the day before the pre-election purdah period began, when restrictions are put in place.

But according to reports in the Scotsman, the publication date was amended to “TBC”, with an attached note stating “delay until after election being explored”.

The report has still not been published.

The Scottish Conservatives have demanded answers by SNP ministers over any pressure they put on Public Health Scotland officials to delay the publication – an accusation strenuously denied by the Scottish Government.

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said: “Grieving families will be appalled by this latest revelation.

"It raises further questions over what sort of pressure was exerted by SNP ministers to suppress criticism ahead of the election and whether public health officials bowed to their demands.

READ MORE: Covid related care home deaths data released after pressure

“Those who lost loved ones as a result of grave errors made by SNP ministers at the height of the pandemic in relation to care homes need to know if they can still have full trust in Public Health Scotland.

“Urgent answers must be given over why this report has never seen the light of day. Not for the first time, it suggests an SNP Government agency are all too keen to shield those responsible from criticism, rather than giving families the honest answers they deserve.”

Public Health Scotland has insisted that the report was not made public in the run-up to May’s election “in line with long-standing practice”.

A spokesperson for Public Health Scotland said: “Only one report had been published as it was considered that it dealt with all of the issues under consideration.

“The report was not published in the immediate period leading up to the election period in line with long-standing practice.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Public Health Scotland have no duty to advise Scottish ministers on communication. Public Health Scotland functions entirely independently of ministers – as, of course, is right and proper – and any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely wrong.

“Clearly, it is important for the Scottish Government and PHS to share information effectively, particularly during a pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic PHS staff have been working tirelessly to provide data that has been vital for decision making and no one should call their integrity into question.”