Sturgeon vows to investigate PPE claims as Scots coronavirus deaths rise to 615

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It would be “unconscionable and unacceptable” for PPE supplies to be diverted from one part of the UK to another, Nicola Sturgeon said as she announced another 40 coronavirus deaths in Scotland.

The First Minister was speaking after reports some companies are prioritising supplies to NHS England and care homes south of the border.

A total of 615 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for coronavirus, up from 575 on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in Scotland
(PA Graphics)

There are 196 people in intensive care with coronavirus or coronavirus symptoms, a decrease of 15 on Monday, and 1,798 people are in hospital the disease.

During the briefing, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will investigate reports that “supplies of PPE to care homes in Scotland are being diverted to England”.

She said if care homes supplies are affected it would be “unacceptable” and increase pressure on the national stockpile, which would be “a source of real worry”.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I hope nobody thinks this is in any way a point of a political nature.

“It is a point about fairness and co-operation 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.

“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.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she was urgently seeking clarity around the situation and intended to speak with her UK counterpart Matt Hancock but he cancelled the phone call.

She said she wrote to him to “remind him that he specifically does not have my agreement to the centralisation of ordering or distribution of PPE”.

A spokesman for the UK Health Secretary said Mr Hancock was unable to make the call at the proposed time due to another pre-planned meeting.

Later, a rearranged meeting between Mr Hancock and health ministers of the devolved Governments took place, with Ms Freeman saying in a tweet that she was grateful for the “assurance that neither NHS England nor PHE (Public Health England) asked suppliers to divert PPE orders from Scotland”.

In a letter following the meeting she asked Mr Hancock to resolve a “contradiction” in that one of the companies involved in supply, Gompels, “have clearly stated” on their website they cannot supply to care homes in Scotland and Wales due to PHE restrictions.

Responding to the First Minister’s remarks, Downing Street said it has not instructed any company to prioritise one part of the UK over another.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Our PPE strategy is UK-wide, making sure that front-line workers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have the PPE they need to stay protected while taking care of patients.

“Through this four-nation approach we are working closely with the devolved administrations to coordinate the distribution of PPE evenly across the UK.

“We have not instructed any company to prioritise PPE for one nation over the others.”

The spokesman said on Easter Monday, 22 million items of PPE, including more than 2.5 million aprons, were delivered to 268 organisations.

Asked about the issue during the UK Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Chancellor Rishi Sunak quoted Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch, who earlier told the BBC the PPE claims were “rubbish”.

Mr Sunak said there was “no truth” in the reports and there was in fact close collaboration between the four nations.

Public Health England’s Yvonne Doyle said: “Public Health England has not, in any sense, directed any of the devolved administrations to be at any disadvantage.”

Addressing the lockdown measures, the First Minister said she is exploring options to reduce restrictions gradually, such as allowing schools or some businesses to reopen.

She also announced plans to invest a further £1 million in services to support mental health, on top of a commitment of £3.3 million made in recent weeks.

Ms Sturgeon said the increase in funding will allow for the expansion of the use of distress brief interventions (DBIs), as well as pay for a Scotland-wide marketing campaign.

DBIs allow adults in emotional distress to speak to mental health workers.

Dr John Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist and Government adviser, also spoke at the briefing and said while it is important there are actions taken on physical health during the pandemic, there should also be a focus on mental well-being.

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