Scottish Health Secretary apologises for publishing ‘sensitive’ vaccine details

Scotland’s Health Secretary has apologised to Matt Hancock after her vaccine deployment plan mistakenly published “sensitive” details about supplies from manufacturers.

Jeane Freeman said she regrets publishing the figures for weekly supplies, information which UK Government ministers consider to be commercially confidential.

The Scottish Conservatives have accused her of breaching the ministerial code, citing the figures in the deployment plan and Ms Freeman’s mention of a vaccine storage location in England which the Scottish Government later said “should not be reported”.

Scotland’s vaccine deployment plan was temporarily taken offline after UK ministers raised concerns, but it has since been republished without the figures relating to expected weekly supplies from manufacturers Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.

The UK Government believes manufacturers may come under pressure from other countries if the UK’s allocation of “finite” supplies is made known.

Ms Freeman was asked about the deployment plan during the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Friday.

She said: “I regret that we published information that the UK Government considers to be sensitive – I’ve had those conversations with them and respect their view.

“We’ve withdrawn that information and the plan, with that part removed, everything else there is back up on our website.”

She said the Scottish Government wants to be open with the public about the pandemic, but she takes responsibility for the “mistake”.

She said: “From day one, the First Minister said that she wanted to have an adult relationship with the people of Scotland and I think that was exactly the right approach to take.”

Ms Freeman said she apologised directly to UK Health Secretary Mr Hancock on Thursday evening, saying: “I regret that what was done, with the right intentions I firmly believe, has caused some upset and I apologise for that.

“I am confident that those I have spoken to are now content and we can move on.

“It has not damaged the relationships between myself and the Secretary of State at UK Government level or my colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland, and I know that because I spoke to all four of them last night.”

Coronavirus – Thu Jan 14, 2021
Coronavirus – Thu Jan 14, 2021

She said decisions relating to alleged breaches of the ministerial code are a matter for the First Minister to consider.

The Scottish Conservatives said the code requires those in Government to respect “confidentiality and security”.

The party also referred to a statement Ms Freeman gave in the Scottish Parliament in which she mentioned a vaccine site in England.

In a letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The dissemination of a location involved in the Covid-19 vaccine distribution chain that Scottish Government officials say ‘should not be reported’ appears to be contrary to the quoted section of the ministerial code.

“We also have concerns that the publishing of the original Covid-19 vaccination plan, including sensitive figures on the supply of the vaccine, may have also breached the code, particularly since the latest plan states that the Government is ‘unable to provide specific details due to limitations of this being commercially sensitive information’.”