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First Minister backs NHS Orkney’s pandemic response

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has lent her support to NHS Orkney in its ability to cope with the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Sturgeon spoke about the health board at her briefing, yesterday, Tuesday, in response to a press question highlighting public criticism of NHS Orkney.

A catalogue of revelations have seen Orkney’s health authority come under fire in recent weeks.

In May, it was confirmed that its chief executive Iain Stewart had been travelling “on occasion” to his home in the Black Isle during lockdown. It was later revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) response that Iain Stewart had travelled from Orkney to the Scottish Mainland no less than five times, inside lockdown, and had racked up £4,500 in travel and accommodation bills since he began working in Orkney at the start of March. It also became apparent that he had travelled as far as Glasgow on one occasion in April.

Further criticism was levelled at NHS Orkney, when it was confirmed that a data leak at Kirkwall’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre had led to the personal information (and in some cases test results) of 51 individuals had been inadvertently sent to an Orkney business in an “administrative error”.

Last week, NHSO clinical quality advisor Dr Roelf Dijkhuizen resigned in a letter which citied major concerns about patient safety, micro-management and transparency. He said that dysfunction within the health board had been “cruelly exposed” by the current crisis, and questioned the effectiveness of NHS Orkney’s decision-making processes when it came to dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

All the while, the health authority came under pressure from the public, and was subject to repeated appeals by the press and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur MSP, when it came to the matter of releasing key data — including the number of coronavirus tests conducted in the county.

As of last Tuesdsay, NHS Orkney has begun releasing testing figures on a weekly basis. It has stood by its chief executive designate’s decision to travel, despite calls for his resignation from Mr McArthur and members of the public. The data breach has been the subject of an internal investigation and has been reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office, and Dr Dijkhuizen’s claims are also due to be investigated.

Speaking on Tuesday, the First Minister said that it would be inappropriate for her to comment on any ongoing investigation, but gave credit to NHS Orkney for its response during the pandemic

“We work closely with health boards, generally — not just at this time, but all the time,” she said.

“The health secretary, who is not here today, because she is going to be answering a question in parliament, is obviously in the leadership position around that.

“I think NHS Orkney has coped well during the crisis, as all health boards have. We continue to work with all health boards to make sure they have the support in place and the right measures in place to continue to do so.”

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