Sturgeon responds as pressure grows over care home deaths

First Minister says the government 'didn't have many good choices' over discharging elderly patients from hospital.

The spread of coronavirus through Scotland’s care homes “is heartbreaking” and “will haunt many of us for a very, very long time to come,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

The Scottish Government has come under pressure from opposition leaders to reveal the scale of discharging untested hospital patients into care homes.

Figures released last week revealed that 921 patients were released from hospitals into care homes in March – the first month of the coronavirus crisis.

But it was not until April 21 that a policy for mandatory testing of all new care home residents was announced by the Scottish Government.

Speaking to BBC Good Morning Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: “At every stage we have done what we thought was best – based on the knowledge that we had at the time.

“Of course, mistakes will have been made and we learn as our knowledge of this virus increases. But the suggestion that any of us just acted recklessly or without due care and attention to older people is frankly one that is not true and fundamentally very wrong.”

National Records of Scotland statistics show more than 1400 (45%) of coronavirus-related deaths have been in such facilities.

A report by the think tank Common Weal has claimed care home deaths during the Covid-19 outbreak are “the single greatest failure of the Scottish Parliament” since devolution.

Speaking later at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, the First Minister said she acted with “thought and care” around the discharge of untested hospital patients into care homes in the early days of the coronavirus crisis.

“We perhaps didn’t have many good choices” when it came to dealing with elderly delayed discharge patients in Scottish hospitals.”

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister

“We perhaps didn’t have many good choices” when it came to dealing with elderly delayed discharge patients in Scottish hospitals,” she said.

“It’s very easy to apply hindsight right now and to say what we did then was completely wrong.

“But if you think back to then, we perhaps didn’t have many good choices. We were in a situation where we had older people who are not medically required to be in hospital, in what we call the delayed discharge category.

“And at that time, we were preparing for an influx of coronavirus cases into our hospitals.”

She said the government would have been putting those patients at “significant risk” if they had simply been left in hospital.

On testing, she said: “There are legitimate issues there.

“But of course back then, there was a different view about the efficacy of testing people who didn’t have symptoms.”

She said she expected there would be inquiries and reviews into every aspect of the coronavirus crisis and government responses to it.

On Sunday, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said health secretary Jeane Freeman should “come clean” over the scale of discharging untested hospital patients into care homes.

He said: “The impact of coronavirus in Scotland’s care homes has been little short of horrifying and it is clear that discharging infected patients to care homes has played a key role in fanning the flames of this virus.

“The Cabinet Secretary owes it to the people of Scotland and the families of the residents and staff affected to come clean over the failure of the Government to protect the most vulnerable.”

Edinburgh Castle gun salute marks Prince Philip’s death

Saluting batteries fired 41 rounds in cities across the UK following the Duke of Edinburgh's death at the age of 99.

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Gun salutes have been fired at Edinburgh Castle to mark the death of the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99.

Saluting batteries began firing 41 rounds at one round every minute from midday on Saturday in cities across the UK including London, Cardiff and Belfast, as well as from Royal Navy warships.

Ships taking part included HMS Diamond, HMS Montrose and HMNB Portsmouth, while the Royal Gibraltar Regiment joined the salute from the British overseas territory, the Ministry of Defence said.

Buckingham Palace said Philip died peacefully in his sleep at Windsor Castle on Friday, two months before his 100th birthday, leaving the Queen and the royal family “mourning his loss”.

The public were encouraged to observe the gun salutes, which are fired to mark significant national events, on television or online, rather than gathering in crowds to watch outside.

Edward and the Countess of Wessex spent around an hour at the castle and Sophie told reporters “the Queen has been amazing” as they left Windsor in a Land Rover.

Two of his sons, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex, arrived at Windsor Castle on Saturday morning, while the Prince of Wales visited his mother there on Friday.

Details of the duke’s funeral, due to take place at St George’s Chapel, are also expected to be released this weekend – but the ongoing lockdown in England will affect plans.

Philip, famously described by the Queen as her “constant strength and guide”, was known to have wanted a minimum of fuss at his funeral.

Buckingham Palace said: “During the coronavirus pandemic, and in light of current Government advice and social distancing guidelines, modified funeral and ceremonial arrangements for His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh are being considered by Her Majesty The Queen. Details will be confirmed in due course.”

Speaking on a BBC tribute on Friday evening, all four of Philip’s children remembered him as someone who had encouraged and supported them.

Charles described his father’s life as an “astonishing achievement” while Edward said his father had a “challenging role” but carried it out with the most “extraordinary flare”, and had never tried to overshadow the Queen.

The Princess Royal said she would best remember her father as “always being there”, someone to help with a problem or bounce ideas off, and the Duke of York recalled Philip reading to the family in the evenings.

An online book of condolence was opened on the royal family’s official website for the public to post personal tributes, while a steady stream of mourners left flowers outside both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle on Friday.

The Palace asked members of the public not to gather in crowds, saying: “Those wishing to express their condolences are asked to do so in the safest way possible, and not to gather at Royal Residences.”

The monarch may give a televised address in memory of her husband of more than 70 years – the longest-serving consort in British history – but details of any possible broadcast have yet to be confirmed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Philip would be remembered for his Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, that had “shaped and inspired the lives of countless young people”, as well as his “steadfast support” for the Queen.

US President Joe Biden highlighted the duke’s “decades of devoted public service”, Second World War service and environmental efforts in remembering his legacy.

During coronavirus lockdowns, Philip stayed at Windsor Castle with the Queen for their safety, alongside a reduced household of staff dubbed HMS Bubble.

The couple are thought to have spent more time together during the past 12 months, shielding from the virus, then they would in a normal year – a throwback to the early years of their marriage.

Philip had returned to Windsor Castle on March 16 to be reunited with the Queen after spending a month in hospital – his longest ever stay.

He initially received care for an infection but then underwent heart surgery for a pre-existing condition.

Union flags were flown at half mast at all royal residences as a mark of respect and Westminster Abbey – where the Queen and Philip married in 1947 – tolled its tenor bell once every 60 seconds, 99 times, during Friday evening.

A period of mourning is expected and any planned official royal events that fall within this period are likely to be postponed.

The Cabinet met at 5pm on Friday to pay tribute to the duke, and Parliament will be recalled from its Easter recess on Monday, a day earlier than its scheduled return.

Army regiment plays key role in Prince Philip gun salute

Regiment 105 Royal Artillery at heart of tribute marking Duke of Edinburgh's life in the capital on Saturday.

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Members of the military involved in Saturday’s gun salutes marking the Duke of Edinburgh’s life have spoken of their pride at being involved in the historic event.

Jenny Findlay, a bombardier with Regiment 105 Royal Artillery, said: “It’s a big moment, it’s a sad moment, (I’m) feeling for the Royal Family, it’s a member of their family that they have lost but, yeah, proud to be a part of the moment.”

“A lot of drill goes into it, a lot of practice and preparation – I know that a lot goes on behind the scenes that we as reservists don’t always see as well; a lot of kit fittings, checks, they get done really regularly and just constant keeping on top of things.”

Jenny, who is also a mobile services manager with NHS WestMARC, added: “It’s been a busy wee while; the patients are still needing service and keeping going.”

Mike Frew, senior permanent staff instructor at 105 Regiment Royal Artillery, was also involved in Saturday’s tribute in the capital.

He said: “I was the troop sargeant major, making sure rehearsals were going fine and marching the troops on and off of the salute itself, and also the timekeepers – I was telling them when to fire.

“It’s an absolute honour to take part in a ceremony like this, it’s such a prestigious thing firing at the castle itself but that did have a bit of additional weight to it, just to make sure we gave the correct send-off that was required.”

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award: Prince Philip’s greatest legacy

The DofE became one of the best known self-development and adventure schemes for young people.

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Prince Philip attends the reception for The Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award holders at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is likely to be judged Prince Philip’s greatest legacy.

Aimed at both able-bodied and disabled youngsters, it became one of the best known self-development and adventure schemes for 14 to 24-year-olds.

The duke was inspired to start the programme by his headmaster, Dr Kurt Hahn, and his much-loved school days at Gordonstoun in Moray.

He was closely involved in the organisation throughout and defended it against accusations that it was an award only for the middle classes.

2016 saw the scheme celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Despite his part in its success, Philip was always modest about his role.

He once maintained that he “couldn’t care less” whether the scheme was seen as an important part of his legacy.

“Legacy? … It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s there for people to use. I couldn’t care less,” he barked.

He added: “It’s relevant too because it’s part of the process of growing up.”

Influential Gordonstoun head Dr Hahn had believed modern life was facing a decline in enterprise and compassion and encouraged boys to embrace physical and moral challenges.

His Salem school in Germany, which Philip briefly attended, was set up to produce self-reliant young people dedicated to serving the community.

But in 1933 Adolf Hitler intervened and Dr Hahn was arrested for resisting Nazi ideas.

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The award ward is likely to be judged Prince Philip’s greatest legacy.

He was later released and came to Britain and founded the UK version of Salem – Gordonstoun.

Dr Hahn began a scheme there called the Moray Badge which was aimed at giving post-war youngsters in Britain a sense of achievement.

Twenty years later, after Philip had married Princess Elizabeth and she had become Queen, it was the duke’s turn to take the concept further.

Dr Hahn reportedly instructed him: “My boy, I want you to set up an award scheme like the one we had at Gordonstoun.”

For Philip, the process was not as straightforward as that.

A number of politicians were wary about the proposed title for the scheme – the Royal Badge.

Others had concerns about a prince with German family connections being involved in the development of youngsters in post-war Britain and some feared that what he was trying to set up would have some echoes of the Hitler Youth.

But the idea moved forward despite the reservations.

An activity-based County Badge Scheme was created, then a committee was set up which included four-minute mile athlete Roger Bannister.

Finally, in 1956, the project was launched with the Duke as patron.

Initially, it was aimed at offering young men activities to complete between leaving education and starting National Service.

In 1958, a girls’ scheme began.

Philip recalled how he thought he was being “progressive” by starting up the girls’ organisation separately, but years later was told by the Equal Opportunities Commission that they had to do the same as the boys.

He said it was hard persuading the girls to part with their scheme. “They had become rather attached to it by then,” he remarked.

Each award had four areas: Rescue & Public Service, Expeditions, Pursuits & Projects, and Fitness.

Later the sections were updated to their current form: Volunteering, Skills, Physical and Expedition.

There are three levels of award: Bronze, Silver and Gold, each with an increasing degree of commitment. The activities must be completed by the participant’s 25th birthday.

The millions of people that have taken part over the last 50 years include polar adventurer David Hempleman-Adams, presenter Zoe Ball and Olympic gold medal-winning athlete Dame Kelly Holmes.

Now since 1956, more than six million have joined the scheme in the UK with over three million achieving awards.

Millions of others have taken part across the globe, with more than 140 countries and territories running DofE programmes.

The Earl of Wessex, who is expected to take on his father’s responsibilities with the scheme, is already a trustee and heavily involved in the organisation.

In October 2013, the duke celebrated the 500th Gold Award presentation ceremony.

He joked with one group who told him of the hardships of their expedition: “You were meant to suffer, it’s good for the soul.”

Final farewell to Duke of Edinburgh set for April 17

Buckingham Palace announced that Philip’s ceremonial royal funeral will take place on April 17.

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Philip: Funeral to take place next Saturday.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s final farewell will be a royal funeral like no other, with the Queen and her family following guidelines and wearing face masks and socially distancing as they gather to pay tribute.

Buckingham Palace announced that Philip’s ceremonial royal funeral will take place on April 17 in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and a national minute’s silence will be observed as it begins at 3pm.

The duke’s coffin will be transported from the castle to the chapel in a specially modified Land Rover he helped to design, and followed by the Prince of Wales and senior royals on foot, a senior Palace official said.

The Queen has approved the Prime Minister’s recommendation of national mourning, which began on April 9 and runs until and including the day of the funeral.

Only 30 people – expected to be the Duke’s children, grandchildren and other close family – will attend as guests, but the Duchess of Sussex has been advised by her physician not to travel to the UK for the funeral, a Palace spokesman said.

It is understood Meghan made every effort to be able to travel with Harry, who will be among the mourners, but has not received the medical clearance to board a plane.

Originally 800 people would have been due to gather to pay their respects to the nation’s longest serving consort, but Philip is known to have wanted a low key affair.

All public elements of the funeral have been cancelled, it will be televised but take place entirely in the grounds of the castle, the Palace said.

The Queen has decided the royal family will enter two weeks of royal mourning, and engagements will continue appropriate to the circumstances, a senior royal official said.

Public elements of Operation Forth Bridge – the codename for the duke’s funeral plans – were abandoned for fear of drawing crowds including the long held arrangements for military processions through London and Windsor.

Instead, the proceedings will take place entirely in the grounds of Windsor Castle, televised, but away from public view and with no access for royal fans.

The duke died peacefully in his sleep at Windsor Castle on Friday, two months before his 100th birthday, leaving the Queen and the royal family “mourning his loss”.

The Earl and the Countess of Wessex spent around an hour with the Queen at the castle on Saturday, with a tearful Sophie telling reporters as she left: “The Queen has been amazing.”

The Duke of York also arrived at Windsor on Saturday, while the Prince of Wales visited his mother there on Friday.

Gun salutes have been fired across the UK, in Gibraltar and at sea in tribute to the duke.

Scottish Cup ties at risk after Duke’s funeral date confirmed

Buckingham Palace announced that Philip’s ceremonial royal funeral will take place on April 17.

Craig Williamson via SNS Group
The Scottish FA has begun discussions over the fourth round ties.

The Scottish FA has said that it has begun dialogue over next week’s Scottish Cup ties after Buckingham Palace announced details of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

The funeral is to take place on Saturday, April 17 at 3pm.

The fourth round of the Scottish Cup is scheduled to take place next weekend, with one lunchtime game, four 3pm matches and Celtic and Rangers due to kick off at 4pm.

Those games are now open to a change of date and time.

A Scottish FA statement read: “In light of confirmation that the funeral of HRH Prince Philip will take place next Saturday at 3pm, we have entered dialogue with the relevant stakeholders with regard to Scottish Cup Fourth Round fixtures scheduled on that day. 

“We will update participating clubs, supporters and partners in due course.”


‘Let me travel abroad for life-changing treatment’

Emma Pratt says current coronavirus restrictions are stopping her from accessing stem cell treatment abroad.

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Emma Pratt was a fit and healthy 25-year-old, when she suddenly lost her sight. 

Doctors quickly diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis, a lifelong condition that affects the brain and nerves. 

Emma’s sight returned but she has been left with permanent disabilities that affect her everyday life.

Despite worsening symptoms, she doesn’t meet the criteria to receive stem cell treatment in Scotland, even though it could slow the progression of her condition. 

Instead, Emma is looking to have treatment abroad but is prevented from travelling due to the pandemic.

“The flights are booked because, regardless of the rules, I know I have to do this now,” she says. “So we will figure it out, but it’s the unknown which makes it very scary. 

“Because of Covid, I haven’t been able to do bric-a-brac sales and ask people to run marathons for me [to raise money]. Literally asking for people’s help has been the only thing we’ve been able to do.”

It has now been ten years since her diagnosis, but Emma has found it impossible to come to terms with.

“I don’t think it ever really sets in,” she says. “I live every day as it comes because I don’t know how my symptoms are going to be.

“Even the simple things like pushing [my son Rory] on a swing and taking him for a walk and running races in the garden and hours of hide and seek… 

“Those are the things that a three-year-old wants to do with mummy, and it’s hard to not be able to do those things.”

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David Balmer is currently unable to access MND treatment in Mexico.

Fundraising is something 41-year-old David Balmer is also finding difficult.

The father-of-two was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2019 and now struggles to speak, so his sister Lynsay helps to communicate his thoughts.

“There was one drug offered that gives you, well so they say, an extra three months on top of your diagnosis,” she says. He said ‘no way’, we weren’t accepting that.”

Despite many obstacles, David made it to Mexico last October for experimental stem cell treatment.

“It was totally beneficial, it was worth it,” says Lynsay. “And he’s now needing to go back for follow-up treatment, but it’s causing more difficulties and more problems again. 

“Time is something that we don’t really have, you need to do things quickly.”

Raising funds for the treatment has also been made difficult for David, but he’s not giving up hope.

Lynsay says: “He’s saying without his family and the people behind him that he wouldn’t be here, but he’s very strong.”

There are exemptions to the current travel and quarantine restrictions, but David and Emma don’t meet the criteria. They feel this needs to change.

The Scottish Government said: “We understand the difficulties faced with those who are dealing with health issues, but to manage the risk of importing new variants and to give vaccine deployment the best chance of bringing us closer to normality these limits on international travel are necessary.

“There is a provision that an exemption can be granted to a person whom Scottish ministers consider requires exceptional arrangements to be made on compassionate grounds. 

“It would be preferable for all concerned if any such exemption were applied for and confirmed or denied in advance of travel, to remove uncertainty.”

Coronavirus: Four new deaths and 281 cases in last 24 hours

Official figures show that there were a total of 281 new cases of Covid-19 in the country.

BlenderTimer via Pixabay
Coronavirus.

Four coronavirus deaths have been recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours.

Official figures also show that there were a total of 281 new cases of Covid-19 in the country.

More than 10,000 deaths have been registered in Scotland since the start of the pandemic last year.

And, as of Saturday, 2,643,524 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination and over half a million have received their second dose.

From 22,183 new tests that reported results on Friday – 1.5% were positive.

Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch received his first dose of the vaccine on Friday.

And he urged everyone else to take theirs when offered.

On thanking NHS staff administrating the jag he said: “From invention, research, manufacture, procurement and distribution to my arm. I am enormously grateful.”


Panda artificially inseminated in new bid to produce cub

Edinburgh Zoo keepers are hoping Tian Tian, who once gave birth in China in 2007, falls pregnant again.

RZSS via Edinburgh Zoo / © Google Maps 2020
Keepers are hoping Tian Tian gives birth later this year.

The UK’s only female panda has been artificially inseminated at Edinburgh Zoo in a new attempt to produce a cub.

Keepers are hoping Tian Tian, who once gave birth in China in 2007, falls pregnant again.

Experts said the procedure went well and that the 80kg bear “is in good health”, but warned that “it is too early to know if she is pregnant”.

Her male companion, Yang Guang, is unable to mate with her since the removal of his testicles in November 2018 due to the presence of tumours.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Zoo said: “Tian Tian had her annual health check this morning and was artificially inseminated under expert veterinary care.  

“We are pleased to say that all went well, though it is too early to know if she is pregnant at this very early stage. 

“Tian Tian gave birth once before in 2007 and it really would be incredible for her to experience being a mother again.

“We will all be keeping our fingers crossed.”

They added: “We will only know for certain that Tian Tian is pregnant if she gives birth later this year.  

“There is no definitive panda pregnancy test and giant pandas can delay implantation of fertilized eggs as well as having pseudopregnancies which mimic real pregnancies, all of which makes it very difficult to predict if and when they may give birth.”

Earlier this year it was reported that the giant pandas may have to return to China in 2022 at the end of their ten-year contract with the Chinese government due to financial pressures.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs both Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park, faced enormous financial pressure when it was forced to close for three months in 2020 due tothe pandemic.


Probe launched after body recovered from Water of Leith

Inquiries continuing after man's body recovered from Edinburgh river on Saturday morning.

Ross MacDonald / SNS Group via SNS Group
Police retrieved body from Water of Leith.

A man’s body was recovered from the Water of Leith in Edinburgh on Saturday morning.

Police say the body was found after they received an alert at around 7.55am.

Inquiries into the death are continuing.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 7.55am on Saturday, 10 April, 2021, we received a report of the body of a man in the Water of Leith near Couper Street in Edinburgh.

“The body was recovered from the water and inquiries into the circumstances are ongoing. As with all sudden deaths, a report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”

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