JOHN Swinney has dismissed Tory claims that the Scottish public has lost confidence in Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.

The Deputy First Minister said that “any dispassionate observer” would recognise that “nobody could have given more commitment to leading the health service during this pandemic than Jeane Freeman”.

The row erupted after Scottish Government figures on delayed discharges showed 921 patients were released from hospitals into care homes

in March, the first month of the coronavirus crisis.

Previously, Freeman had suggested that the figure was around 300.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said the disclosure posed “real questions about the Health Secretary’s competence, honesty and transparency”.

He added: “In the light of these events, it is impossible to see how public confidence can be maintained in the Cabinet Secretary for Health. Jeane Freeman simply can’t be trusted on care home coronavirus.”

Asked about the claims, Swinney said: “I think any dispassionate observer would recognise that nobody could have given more commitment to leading the health service during this pandemic than Jeane Freeman.”

At the start of the pandemic, health boards moved to get elderly patients out of hospitals, fearing that wards could soon be overwhelmed.

But there was no regular testing of patients moving from hospitals to care homes until April 21.

Yesterday morning, speaking on Good Morning Britain, Nicola Sturgeon said that at the time the Government did not believe testing people without symptoms an “effective” precaution.

The First Minister said: “To have kept older people, with no medical need to be in hospital, where they were would have been putting them at enormous risk as well.

“You can apply hindsight, but we were trying to do the best things at the time.

“Back then we didn’t think that testing people without symptoms was something that was scientifically and clinically an effective thing to do.”

Asked whether she thought the elderly could have been better protected from the virus, Sturgeon said: “I don’t think any politician – and frankly any human being – should look at the situation now and not

agonise over ‘could we have done things differently, could we have done things better?’

“So every day right now we’re trying to do everything we can, and adapt our responses as we learn more about this virus.

“One of the easiest things in the world right now is for people to apply hindsight that we didn’t have at the time and say ‘you should have done everything differently’.”

Figures released by the National Records of Scotland on Wednesday show 46% of all deaths linked to coronavirus in Scotland have occurred in care homes.

Care homes that can no longer admit residents because of coronavirus could receive a financial lifeline under a new deal drawn up by councils and the Scottish Government.

Local government leaders at Cosla and Scottish Ministers have agreed an approach to support the care sector.