Jackson Carlaw: The evidence in support of Jeane Freeman leaving her post is overwhelming

At her daily briefing yesterday, in response to a question from the Scottish Daily Express, Nicola Sturgeon seemed irked by my suggestion she should cut the health secretary loose.

Her anger stems from the fact she knows it’s true.

The weakness of the First Minister’s supporting cast has been brutally exposed during this coronavirus.

The fact that Jeane Freeman, the only minister she seems to trust on a consistent basis, has made so many blunders proves the point.

Months into this crisis, people are beginning to wonder where all the other ministers with briefs covering the coronavirus are hiding.

Joe Fitzpatrick, minister for public health, and Christina McKelvie – supposedly the representative for older people – are nowhere to be seen.

But it is the shortcomings of the health secretary which have been most apparent.

On Sunday, she was forced into admitting that frontline health workers still weren’t being regularly tested for Covid-19, and she wasn’t sure when that would change.

By Monday, further revelations were hitting the newsstands, this time that thousands of shielded patients had been wrongly told they were free to break the shackles of lockdown.

That offer was promptly rescinded, leaving vulnerable people who thought there was an end in sight to all this heartbroken.

These two failings are bad enough, but in truth there have been a succession of gaffes since the outbreak hit Scotland, and the buck stops with the First Minister and her health secretary.

She should already have resigned when it transpired she had radically under-stated the number of elderly people who had been discharged from hospital to care homes without routine testing being in place.

That error was blamed on tiredness, with Nicola Sturgeon more interested in shielding her beleaguered sidekick than the welfare of shielded people.

Those shielded people had already been failed by the SNP, after the nationalists’ unacceptable and inexplicable failure to pass the list of shielded individuals onto supermarkets.

In England, that list had been sent on almost immediately, allowing the most vulnerable individuals to secure much sought-after delivery slots.

Here, they had to rely on basic food boxes, or the charity of neighbours and family.

And let’s not forget the now notorious Nike conference, where coronavirus-positive people were allowed to mingle with each other, and then a host of other businesses in Edinburgh – and SNP ministers didn’t think it relevant to inform those affected.

The secrecy of a government which gets annoyed by scrutiny and calls for accountability coming through again.

Even the most loyal boss must have had her patience tested over Ms Freeman’s antics on scientific advice.

Nicola Sturgeon told the nation from her familiar podium that at no point had she thought asymptomatic sufferers of Covid-19 couldn’t pass the disease on.

The same afternoon, Ms Freeman said the scientific advice she received told her the exact opposite.

It may be inconvenient to part company with a health secretary in the middle of a pandemic, and perhaps if Nicola Sturgeon had acted sooner she wouldn’t have had to.

Her job should have been on the line over numerous failings that occurred on her watch prior to this outbreak.

The First Minister could have taken her pick. The cover-up of child deaths at the SNP’s flagship hospital due to contaminated water supplies?

The accusation of being a “liar” from an outgoing NHS Lothian chief over the near decade-long delay in opening Edinburgh’s new Sick Kids hospital?

The fact that two-thirds of Scotland’s population are served by health boards placed in “special measures” because performance has been so bad?

The permanent failure to meet the 12 week treatment time guarantee?

The abysmal performance in relation to treating cancer patients on time?

The ongoing failure to fully reopen the children’s wards at St John’s Hospital, a facility serving one of the most densely populated parts of the country?

The list goes on and on, whether you want to include the coronavirus period or not.

The evidence in support of Jeane Freeman leaving her post is overwhelming.

It’s not a case, as the First Minister so desperately tried to claim yesterday, of playing politics.

Surely, in the grip of the worst health crisis the country has ever seen, you want your best people in the positions of responsibility.

And if the First Minister wants to guide the country through this crisis and out the other side, she has to realise that opposition parties will continue to strive to hold her, and her cabinet secretary colleagues to account.

Doing that isn’t playing politics.

Thinking your health secretary should be immune from criticism despite a litany of mistakes very much is.

Jackson Carlaw MSP, Scottish Conservative leader