Scottish government slow to implement pandemic measures

Issues surrounding access to PPE and social care capacity raised in pandemic preparedness exercises were not fully followed up on, an Audit Scotland report has concluded.

While the Scottish government acted quickly to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed by Covid-19, it could have been better prepared to respond, NHS in Scotland 2020 said.

In the five years before the pandemic, Scotland was involved in three pandemic preparedness exercises – Silver Swan, Cygnus and Iris.

Each of the exercises highlighted areas that required improvement including the need to clarify roles and responsibilities in the event of a pandemic; increasing the capacity and capability of social care to cope during an outbreak; and ensuring the availability and correct use of PPE, including thorough fit testing and procurement processes.

However, the report found progress in addressing recommendations had been slow.

Flu pandemic guidance published in 2012, designed for health and social care in England, was issued in Scotland. ‘One of the priorities of the FSLWG [Flu Short Life Working Group] was to develop a Scottish version of this guidance for consultation by March 2018,’ the report said. ‘This guidance was drafted and issued for consultation between July and September 2019.

‘The draft guidance was not updated following consultation and has not been published. The Scottish government is now reviewing this guidance to incorporate lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.’

As a priority, the Scottish government should update and publish national pandemic guidance for health and social care, one of the recommendations in the document said.

Ways of working and roles in the NHS and social care will need to be different after Covid-19, auditors said. ‘When the immediate pressures on NHS workforce planning during the Covid-19 pandemic subside, the Scottish government should work with its partners to update the integrated workforce plan.

‘This should consider how services will be delivered differently in the future, and how this will affect the shape of the health and social care workforce in the longer term.’

Covid-19 has caused or contributed to 9,000 deaths in Scotland so far.

‘The full range of health services back up and running will be challenging,’ said Stephen Boyle, auditor general for Scotland. ‘But there are clear lessons to be learned from the pandemic, both in how the country could have been better prepared and in the innovation that we’ve seen. It’s essential that these advances are now retained and built upon.’

Earlier this month, a National Care Service was proposed in Scotland to help drive improvements in the way provision is delivered.

The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.