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I express the heartfelt sympathies of all Scottish Conservatives to all those who have endured loss, as many families have over the course of the past week.
I thank the First Minister and politicians from around Scotland for their good wishes to the Prime Minister as he recovers from the virus. Boris, if you are watching, we all urge you to get well soon and back into number 10.
Presiding Officer, I applaud the first virtual meeting that we are holding.
I will begin by asking the First Minister about personal protective equipment, or PPE, as it is commonly called. Unions say that the PPE guidelines are confusing; front-line staff say that the equipment is not robust enough; and care homes say that they do not get the kit until after the virus has entered the care home. Further, it has emerged that the new PPE distribution hubs that the Scottish Government has set up might be shut at Easter. For several weeks, we have been told that supplies are adequate and that the problem is with distribution. However, members are getting emails and calls from front-line staff and care homes. They have been told that they have the equipment, but they phone us to tell us that that is not the case.
At what point will the First Minister be able to say with absolute confidence that the effective distribution of PPE is in place? If necessary, will she use logistics experts from the private sector, many of whom are currently doing nothing, or from our armed forces, which have helped elsewhere already?
We have army logistics support based here in St Andrew’s house who are already helping us with many issues. I am deeply grateful to them for that. We will draw on support in logistics and other areas when we need it and from wherever we need it.
PPE is fundamental; it is of paramount importance. We have been working hard to resolve people’s concerns, which roughly fall into the following categories: the adequacy of supplies; the distribution of those supplies to where they are needed; the guidance that we are issuing to workers about what types of equipment they should be using in which circumstances; and the quality of the PPE.
We have adequate supplies, although we are not complacent about that, as there are global pressures on supply. We have taken significant steps to improve distribution and we continue to do that, addressing glitches and concerns as they arise. At the briefing that Jeane Freeman and I did yesterday, we commented on our work to ensure that distribution centres will be open over the Easter weekend, just as GP practices and pharmacies will be.
Jackson Carlaw might not yet have had the opportunity to see the joint statement on guidance that was issued this morning by the Scottish Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and trade unions, which all took part in a meeting that was convened yesterday by the Deputy First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport. The statement endorses the four nations guidance as being good-quality guidance, but it also makes it clear that whenever a health or care worker on the front line feels that they should be wearing a mask, they should do so, as their professional judgment should be the guiding factor. The Scottish Government will continue to work hard to ensure that adequate supplies get to the front line.
Yesterday, medics wrote a letter on PPE quality, and the chief medical officer is engaging with its signatories. When the guidance that was issued last week was drawn up, there was input from experts and from the royal colleges. There has also been Health and Safety Executive input on the quality of PPE that is being provided.
We treat these issues as hugely important and we will continue to address any concerns that arise. There is an email address that anybody in the front-line workforce can use if they have concerns that they want to be brought immediately to my attention and that of ministers.