Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Health Secretary’s speech 17 May 2020

Statement given by the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh.

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for today’s briefing.

I want to start – as I always do – by updating you on some of the key statistics in relation to COVID-19 in Scotland.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, there have been 14,537 positive cases confirmed - an increase of 90 from yesterday.

A total of 1,308 patients are in hospital with the virus – 1,007 who have been confirmed as having Covid, and 301 who are suspected of having Covid. That represents a total decline of 108 from yesterday, including a decrease of 4 in the number of confirmed cases.

A total of 59 people last night were in intensive care with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That is the same number as reported yesterday.

I am also able to confirm today that since 5 March, a total of 3,354 patients who had tested positive for the virus have been able to leave hospital. I wish all of them well.

Regrettably, I also have to report that in the last 24 hours, 9 deaths have been registered of patients who have been confirmed through a test as having COVID-19 – that takes the total number of deaths in Scotland, under that measurement, to 2,103.

It is worth bearing in mind that fewer deaths tend to be registered at the weekend than on other days of the week – that is almost certainly part of the reason why today’s figure is significantly lower than yesterday’s.

As always, I want to stress that these numbers are much more than statistics. They represent individuals whose loss is a source of grief to many. I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to this virus.

As Health Secretary, I also want to once again thank those working in our health and care sector.  That thanks is due to every single person - doctors and nurses; paramedics; care home staff; healthcare assistants; porters, cooks, and cleaners and many, many more.

Everything you do is essential to the health and well being of our country. And all of us owe you a great debt of gratitude.

I have three areas which I want to update you on today.

The first relates to care homes. All care workers demonstrate everyday commitment and compassion in their work and in incredibly difficult circumstances. We will continue to do everything we can to support you, while you provide care and support for those who most need it.

On Friday we published detailed clinical and practice guidance for care homes. Today we have published details of arrangements that take effect from tomorrow to ensure enhanced professional clinical and care oversight.

The publication today sets out a very clear role for the NHS, in partnership with the relevant Local Authority and Local Health & Social Care Partnership to actively and proactively ensure that every care home has the additional support and if necessary intervention, to make sure that clinical care, infection prevention and control, PPE and testing arrangements are what we need them to be.

Accountability for this sits at the most senior levels of our Health Boards and of course through them, to me as Health Secretary.

These additional arrangements build on current support and ensure that care homes benefit from the vital contribution of Nurse Directors, Chief Social Work Officers and Chief Officers of Health and Social Care Partnerships.

The Scottish Government has also added new measures to the Coronavirus Bill, which will receive Stage 2 consideration in Parliament next week.

These make it clear that - if a provider is unable to continue to deliver care, or if there is a significant risk to residents - Scottish Ministers can ensure continuity of care and support.

These powers would only be exercised as a last resort. There is a range of guidance available for care providers on how to manage the current situation, which we expect to be followed.

Of course there are many positive examples across Scotland of highly effective management of care homes.

But there have also been instances where care standards during this pandemic have fallen short. We are already taking action to address these, with the support of the Care Inspectorate.

If passed, the new measures we are proposing will provide additional assurance – to staff; to people who live in care homes, to their residents and to their families - that further action will be taken to address any failings that arise and will be taken quickly.

The Coronavirus Bill provisions – together with the guidance we have published – reinforce our determination to ensure that care in every residential setting is as safe as possible.

The second issue I want to talk about is a further development of our growing capacity to test, trace, isolate and support.

That process – which involves identifying cases of COVID-19, finding the people they have been in close contact with, and then asking those close-contacts to self-isolate for 14 days is crucial as we start to emerge from the lock down. It will help us to quickly break the chains of transmission, and therefore stop any new outbreaks of Covid from growing.

Currently Health Boards across Scotland do some contact tracing, based on risk assessments. And as part of our build-up of contact-tracing staff, an open recruitment process is underway to supplement the increase in contract tracing teams Boards are currently working on. We now have 600 additional staff across our NHS boards who are ready to start and more are being trained as contact tracers.

From tomorrow, NHS Fife, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Highland will test the contact tracing technology that health boards will use. This builds on existing tried and tested technology, and is designed to support staff to collect and record information, and to trace more contacts more quickly.

Together with the growing number of contact tracers the technology allows us to carry out contact tracing on the much larger scale that will be needed.

The software which is being tested next week, will be used in all health boards by the end of May and will continue to be refined and improved during June. It will play a valuable role in improving the speed and effectiveness of our work to test, trace, isolate and support.

The final issue I want to talk to you about is the appointment of an additional deputy Chief Medical Officer.  The First Minister has appointed Professor Marion Bain to that role on an interim basis.

Professor Bain is the Scottish Government’s former Senior Medical Advisor for Public Health Reform. Most recently, she has been working as the Director of Infection Prevention and Control in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.  She is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, and has a particular research expertise in the use of routine health information for public health and clinical research.

Professor Bain will work alongside our other interim Deputy CMO, Dr Nicola Steedman.  And she will support our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Gregor Smith,

Her appointment will provide additional capacity in that key role and further ensure that we benefit from the very best public health expertise available.

I’m now going to pass you on to Fiona McQueen, our Chief Nursing Officer but before I do, however, I’d like to emphasise once again our key public health guidance.

Please stay at home except for essential purposes- such as daily exercise, or to buy essential items.

You can now exercise more than once a day – but when you do leave the house, stay local, stay more than 2 metres apart from other people. And do not meet up with people from households other than your own.

You should wear a face covering if you are in a shop or on public transport and physical distancing is difficult to achieve. And wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

Finally, if you or someone else in your household has symptoms of COVID-19, then you should stay at home completely.

I do know how difficult these restrictions are. And I also know they get harder as time passes. But they are necessary – and they are making a difference.

By staying at home, we, you, are slowing the spread of the virus, protecting the NHS and saving lives.

And we are getting a bit closer to the day, when we can relax some more of these restrictions.

So thank you once again to all of you, for doing the right thing, and sticking to the guidance.

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