Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: First Minister's speech 14 April 2020

Statement given by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at a media briefing in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh.

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Good afternoon everybody. Thank you once again to all of you for joining us for this daily update on COVID-19.

I am very pleased to be joined today by Dr John Mitchell. John is a Consultant Psychiatrist and also a senior adviser to the Scottish Government.

Given the nature of this crisis, much of our focus is on protecting physical health, and rightly so.

But we also know the anxiety that is caused by this virus and also the stress and the isolation of the lockdown measures themselves can have a really big impact on mental wellbeing - so for that reason today’s briefing will have a special focus on how we support our mental health through this crisis and John will be able to offer some important information that hopefully will help you do that.

Before that though I want, as usual, to provide you with an update on some of the key statistics in relation to COVID-19 in Scotland.

As at 9 o’clock this morning, I can advise you that there have been 6,358 positive cases confirmed – that is an increase of 291 from the figures reported yesterday.

Across Scotland, a total of 1,798 patients are in hospital with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 – and that is an increase of one since yesterday.

A total of 196 people as of last night were in intensive care with either confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That is a decrease of 15 on the figures we reported yesterday.

And while that is of course a positive indication I would again at this stage caution against reading too much into that.

Not least because it is with sadness that I have to report today a further 40 deaths that have been registered of patients who had tested positive for the virus. That takes the total number of registered deaths in Scotland now to 615.

As I mentioned yesterday, it is likely that registration numbers will have been relatively low in recent days as a result of the Easter holiday weekend, and that should be taken into account of course when considering today’s figures.

I should also remind you that these daily figures are of people who died after testing positive for the virus.

And tomorrow, for the second week in a row, National Records of Scotland will publish figures which show the number of people who have died with presumed or suspected COVID as well as those who have died after having COVID confirmed in a test.

Tomorrow’s figures will also give the location of death for those who have died, so will report on numbers who have died in care homes.

Care homes are a cause of concern for us in this virus and I know they are a cause of concern to people across Scotland - and particularly, obviously, to all those who have a loved one in a care home.

We know, and we have always known this, that older people are more at risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from this virus, and we also know from our own experience and from the emerging evidence from other countries, that care homes can be places that are more susceptible to outbreaks of COVID-19.

So I want to stress again today how hard we are working, and will continue to work - not least through the Care Inspectorate - to ensure that care home providers are following the appropriate guidance, that they have good infection control measures in place, and also that they have the support and equipment that  they need. And that work will be ongoing and will continue right throughout this pandemic to be an issue of intense focus for us.

And of course, the fact is that every death, no matter where someone dies, in a care home, in a hospital or in their own home, no matter the age, the underlying health conditions or the background of the person, every single death is a tragedy that we mourn and deeply regret. And yet again today I want to extend my deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones to this virus. 

And yet again today I want to take, as I do every day, the opportunity to thank everyone working in our health and care sector. Your efforts are hugely appreciated – not just by me and by the Scottish Government, but they are appreciated by everyone across the country.

Now, as I have mentioned, the main focus today is mental health, but before I can come on to that I want to address one issue which I know is causing some concern and indeed an issue that is causing concern to the Scottish Government.

We are aware of reports, yesterday and this morning, that supplies of personal protective equipment to care homes in Scotland are being diverted to England. Now I should stress we are not aware so far that this is an issue affecting supplies to our national stockpile in Scotland - although we continue to monitor that very closely indeed.

However I also want to be clear that if care homes’ usual supplies are affected in this way, then, as well as that being unacceptable in itself, it will of course increase pressure on our national stockpile and that would be a source of real worry for us.

So it is not an exaggeration to say that we are extremely concerned about these reports and are taking steps to investigate them further and to seek to resolve them if they are real issues, as a matter of urgency.

Our Health Secretary is raising this matter with Matt Hancock, the UK Secretary of State for Health today and is seeking to speak to him directly about it.

And I want to be clear about my view in that I hope nobody thinks this is in any way a point of a political nature. It is a point about fairness and cooperation as all of us deal with the challenge of this virus.

All parts of the UK right now are facing supply challenges on PPE – indeed this is a global issue - so any situation where supplies were being diverted from one part of the UK to another, without consultation or any sense of co-operation, would clearly be unconscionable and unacceptable. So that is why we are seeking to investigate these issues further and seeking to address them, if they are arising, as quickly as possible.

My main focus today, however, is on mental health.

COVID-19 restrictions have, as I’ve spoken about every day I have stood here, and as everybody is experiencing - these restrictions are affecting all of our lives. People who may never before have been affected by mental health issues, may now experiencing emotional distress – that could be due to financial hardship, bereavement and the isolation that comes with social distancing. 

We know that NHS 24 has experienced an increase in calls in recent weeks - including to Breathing Space, which is our mental health phoneline - and we would expect to see that demand continue to rise.

So we want to make sure that anyone who requires support for their mental health is able to access and receive that support.

A few weeks ago I announced £3.8 million of additional investment to increase capacity in our telephone and digital mental health services.

Today I am announcing an additional £1 million of investment in mental health services. This will allow us over the coming weeks to expand the use of what is called a Distress Brief Intervention, or DBI.

The DBI programme gives people over the age of 16 who are in emotional distress the opportunity to speak directly to trained staff.
They will be referred by frontline staff, such as those working in NHS 24. And crucially the service allows people to talk to the same person several times within a period of a few days or weeks. For some people, we know that that ability to establish a rapport with the person helping them can make a big difference.

The DBI programme has already been operating since 2017 in four pilot areas, where it has already helped more than 6,000 people. So we are now expanding it across Scotland and we hope it will be a valuable additional source of help, at a time when we know more people are likely to need it.

In addition, we will launch a new mental health marketing campaign later this month.

The campaign will provide some practical advice on things we can all do to feel better, and to cope until these restrictions are lifted.

And it will direct people to sources of extra support – to NHS Inform, as a key information resource - and to the helplines operated by NHS 24, Breathing Space, the Samaritans and the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Fundamentally, we know – we all know how hard these restrictions are for people - and we know that this pandemic will have an impact on people’s mental health, alongside the risk it poses to our physical health. So we are determined to make sure that support is available for you, if you need it.

As part of this, we are also determined to work to support Scotland’s children and young people.

Asking schools to close a few weeks ago was without any doubt one of the most difficult decisions I have had to take as First Minister, because I knew then and I know now just how disruptive this is to the lives of children and young people

But that has been made much easier thanks to the cooperation of our young people, and I  want to thank all of you who might be watching this today.

Every single day I hear or see evidence about how you are supporting your families and each other.

But I know that this situation is still extremely tough for you – and it really is OK sometimes not to feel OK.

The Scottish Government has been working with others for some time to tackle mental health issues affecting young people – such as online bullying and body image.

But as you are spending more time online right now, it’s more important than ever, to ensure the online world doesn’t impact on your mental health.

So later this week, we will launch a new digital resource to help children and young people learn about the healthy use of screens and social media.

The Scottish Youth Parliament and Children’s Parliament – together with more than 650 children and young people across the country – have been working on this new ‘Mind Yer Time’ resource, which will support mental and physical health online.

These resources are due – we are due to launch the campaign with these resources on Friday, and hope that this will be valuable at what we know is a really tough and challenging time.

And for all of us, I’ve said before that one of the cruel things about COVID-19 is that we need each other more than ever right now, yet we have been told – for good reason - to stay apart.  And that’s one reason why I’m so keen to stress the importance of kindness, solidarity and love throughout this crisis. And there is a role for all of us in trying to support each other.

But I also know that many people will need your specialised help and advice to support their mental health and wellbeing.

And so in many ways, the most important message I want to get across today is this one -  help is there if you need it. The NHS Inform website can help you see what service will be best for you. So please reach out for help, because it is there.

I’m going to hand over to John in a moment. Before I do that, I just want to end by emphasising once again the importance of following the public health rules, and staying at home.

Other than for a few very specific reasons, such as exercise or buying essential goods, you should stay at home – you shouldn’t be going out. 

You should stay two metres apart from other people when you do go out for essential purposes. 

You should not meet up with people from other households.  And, if you or other people in your household show signs of COVID-19, you should be completely isolating – not going out at all.

I know how difficult these rules are, and they are likely to be in place for a bit longer yet, but they are essential.

They are essential to help us slow down this virus, to protect the NHS, and ultimately to save lives.

So thank you, once again, for sticking to these rules, particularly over the most recent weekend when normally you would have been out enjoying yourselves. But you are doing the right thing. I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you for that, and you are helping us in the fight against this virus.

I will now hand over to John who’s going to say a bit more about the importance of mental health and the support that is available.

We are all slowing the spread of the virus, we are protecting our NHS, and we are helping to save lives.

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