NICOLA Sturgeon has hit back at claims a report into care home deaths was “suppressed for political reasons” – insisting that all data has been made available to the public.

The Scottish Government has been accused of putting pressure on Public Health Scotland to delay a report into Covid-related care home deaths, initially due to be published in March.

The Scotsman had reported that 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, which could potentially restrict the report being made available.

But according to reports, the publication date was amended to “TBC”, with an attached note stating “delay until after election being explored”. A standalone report has still not been published.

READ MORE: Care home Covid-19 deaths report 'delayed to suppress criticism' ahead of election

But the First Minister has said that all data has been incorporated into another report which was published on April 21, but that document had to be revised after statistical modelling issues were raised by the Office for Statistics Regulation.

The report on discharges from hospitals to care homes, updated from a document published in October 2020, revealed that 100 hospital discharges of elderly patients may have led to Covid outbreaks in Scottish care homes or increased the number of existing infections – with Public Health Scotland stating the link “cannot be ruled out”.

The document set out that between March and June 2020, as the pandemic was fully emerging in Scotland, there were 5,768 deaths in 774 care homes across Scotland - while 1,915 deaths mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, in 321 care homes.

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Hospital link to care home outbreaks ‘can’t be ruled out’

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said that the data relating to patients being transferred from hospitals to care homes and the impact of Covid infections should be “illuminated”, adding it should happen “without manipulation from government ministers”.

He told Ms Sturgeon that “suspicion about the interference with Public Health Scotland is swirling around”, adding that “the best way to deal with that suspicion is to publish the report into care home deaths now”.

But the First Minister stressed that she did not accept that assessment, adding that “it does a great disservice” to Public Health Scotland workers.

She added: “Public Health Scotland has made it absolutely clear that no data was withheld.

“Data on deaths in care homes were incorporated into the discharges from NHS Scotland hospitals to care homes report that was published on April 21.

READ MORE: FMQs Recap: Nicola Sturgeon pressed over violence against women and hospital deaths

“Deaths in care homes, in common with all aspects of the handling of the pandemic, will be subject of the independent inquiry and we will shortly announce further details of that.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, claimed a standalone report on care home deaths amid the pandemic “was not published prior to the election”, alleging that “it seems the report was suppressed for political reasons”.

She added: “We know that secrecy and spin are at the very heart of the SNP but it seems to have infected Public Health Scotland too.

HeraldScotland: Labour's Jackie BaillieLabour's Jackie Baillie

“Why did they need to protect the SNP Government? And will the First Minister ensure that the report is now published?”

But Ms Sturgeon accused Ms Baillie of “a slur on the good people who work in Public Health Scotland”.

The First Minister added: “I accept criticism of ministers readily in this chamber – that is a proper part of the democratic process. But those working in Public Health Scotland do not deserve that.

“Public Health Scotland has made it clear that no data was withheld. Data on deaths in care homes were incorporated in the discharges from NHS Scotland hospitals to care home report published on April 21 – which if memory serves me correctly, was before the election.”

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.”