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Coronavirus: Can we see your written work, please?

THE Scottish government admitted today that it was provided with no written briefings for weeks on the coronavirus pandemic as unions urged caution in the reopening of health services across the country.

A freedom of information (FoI) written response by the government has revealed that no written evidence was provided by Scotland’s national clinical director and chief medical officer (CMO) to ministers in the early months of the pandemic. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman were reportedly only given verbal updates from experts while chairing emergency meetings to tackle the increasing danger of coronavirus. 

But the SNP government has refused to publish details of 17 meetings between the CMOs of Scotland and England between January 24 and March 9, which opposition politicians claim could explain the approaches taken with regard to the pandemic. 

Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “How can experts advise the government without issuing written advice?

“Covid-19 is one of the biggest health crises of the last 50 years — the public must be able to scrutinise the advice and decisions made.”

Speaking at the government’s daily briefing, the First Minister said she hadn’t seen the FoI response but would be willing to provide a fuller response. 

She added: “What I can say categorically is: I got a great deal of direct briefing from the chief medical officer at the time, the interim chief medical officer, who was deputy chief medical officer at the time, and from others as appropriate across the Scottish government.

“There’s a range of different ways and means by which ministers receive advice. Sometimes it’s in writing, sometimes it’s in discussion.

"I’m sure that’s been the case since time immemorial and will continue to be the case, particularly in a very fast-moving situation.”

The government admission comes after the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland urged the Scottish government to take a cautious approach to the return of some NHS services.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there would be a “cautious, phased” return of services, but BMA Scotland chairman Lewis Morrison stressed the complexity of the task. 

He said a balance between increasing patient numbers and stopping the spread of the virus must be struck, adding: “Many doctors are concerned about how they will cope with surges in demand.”

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