A FORMER Ayrshire MSP has admitted she will "regret for the rest of my life" any Covid deaths in Scotland's care homes because her government did not take action or could have done better.

Jeane Freeman, who represented Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley until 2021, gave evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry on January 29.

She served as Scotland's health secretary at the height of the pandemic.

Between March and May 2020, almost 5,000 patients were discharged from Scottish hospitals to care homes - and many were not tested for Covid.

A University of Edinburgh report found that in the first wave of the pandemic, around 50 per cent of Covid deaths were in care homes.

Ms Freeman says she wanted it on record that she was personally very concerned for people receiving care at home, as well as for care home residents.

Asked how she felt after the initial warnings of a potential pandemic, she replied: "I had a growing feeling of trepidation about what we were about to have to deal with, all through that month of January."

The former health secretary told the inquiry that officials discussed the possibility of a high proportion of the population getting infected by Covid.

She added: "That told me that I had to undertake work with our health service colleagues, our NHS colleagues, to look at what is our bed capacity and what do we need to do to increase our bed capacity so that we can take people who are ill."

She said decision-makers also considered how to increase the number of ventilators in ICUs.

Ms Freeman also told the inquiry about a meeting of the UK-wide Cobra emergency committee that was chaired by her counterpart, then-UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

She said: “My feeling at that meeting was there wasn't sufficient urgency from the UK government.”

She revealed Scottish Government officials were also “frustrated” by slow or absent information from the UK government.

Jamie Dawson KC asked Ms Freeman if there was a lack of urgency or prioritisation of the issues that were likely to be faced by those in care.

She disagreed, saying guidance was issued to care homes on March 13, 2020 which advised social distancing and visiting restrictions, and advised that patients should be screened clinically to ensure that they weren't being transferred inappropriately to care homes.

The former health secretary believed the fact that local authorities controlled the social care system rather than the Scottish Government hampered efforts to put measures in place to protect the residents of care homes from the virus.

She said basic infection control systems were not consistent in all care homes, but officials worked with care providers and local authorities to improve the system.

But she denied Mr Dawson's suggestion that the system was "completely inadequate".