SCOTLAND was “not fully part” of important UK-wide coronavirus crisis meetings during the early days of the pandemic, the UK Covid Inquiry has been told.

Dr Catherine Calderwood – who served as Scotland’s chief medical officer before resigning in April 2020 – told the inquiry that technology issues made her attendance at key meetings “much more difficult”.

While she noted that communication with the Scientific  Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had been good before the pandemic, attending meetings remotely once coronavirus spread to Scotland “became much more difficult because that was based in London and Scotland was not fully part of that.”

She added: "There were a large number of people dialled into meetings and of course our infrastructure for remote working was nothing like it is now.

"I would have attended or my deputy attended with several other people from Scotland, but very often the quality of the line was poor.

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"It dropped out very frequently and there was often not really a fully fluent readout from some of those very important meetings in the early days of the pandemic."

She also told the inquiry that the UK had not learned from countries which had dealt with similar coronaviruses prior to 2020, such as Sars.

“We were late and slow,” she said. “There wasn’t a formal or coordinated way to communicate with other countries and we could have learned more rapidly.”

Calderwood was forced to resign as chief medical officer just a few weeks into the pandemic after she travelled to her holiday home in contravention of lockdown rules at the time.

A former consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist she is now the national clinical director of the Centre for Sustainable Delivery at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank.

When asked by the inquiry what the health service could do to prepare for a future pandemic while maintaining day-to-day services, she said that issues with capacity meant it would be “extremely difficult” for the NHS to be sufficiently prepared.

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“I think that’s extremely, extremely difficult,” she said.

“Our NHS is at the moment working at or if not beyond full capacity at all times.

“If you take my own area – the labour ward – the babies keep coming day and night, and we don’t have the luxury of saying ‘there’s going to be an exercise where we’re going to send six of you for mask fitting’, for example.

“We haven’t got the luxury of being able to have six spare midwives who could then go off to do that exercise.”

She said that instead, exercises are run which are “relevant and pertinent to the emergencies that might happen on the labour ward”.

The former chief medical officer added it is “very difficult without increased capacity within the NHS to think how we could ever have exercises” for pandemic preparedness due to a lack of staff and the inability of those who do work in the health service to “leave work that is prescient”.

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Both the Government and the health service routinely ran exercises to plan for a future pandemic in the lead up to Covid-19, including a number of tabletop exercises organised by the Scottish Government.

One such exercise was code named Iris – and simulated an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – resulting in 13 recommendations for the NHS and Government.

Dr Calderwood said of those recommendations, a number – most notably around PPE – had not been actioned.

She said that, “ironically”, staff had to be moved away from the implementation of the recommendations to focus efforts on the Covid-19 outbreak.