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Dr Catherine Calderwood is facing calls to resign.
Dr Catherine Calderwood is facing calls to resign.
Image: Jane Barlow/PA Images

Scotland's chief medical officer resigns after failing to follow her own advice by visiting second home

Dr Catherine Calderwood was spotted with her family at their second home more than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh.
Apr 5th 2020, 2:06 PM 192,216 106

Updated Apr 5th 2020, 10:10 PM

SCOTLAND’S CHIEF MEDICAL officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, has resigned after being criticised for not adhering to social distancing advice by visiting her second home.

Earlier, she had apologised for visiting her family’s second home in Fife during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Calderwood, who grew up in Belfast, said that her reasons for visiting the house were “not legitimate” and she is “truly sorry for not following advice she gave to others”.

Speaking earlier today, Calderwood had not indicated that she would be standing down over the furore.

She had said that she had spoken to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and would “continue to focus entirely” on her job of advising ministers over the outbreak.

However, after further conversations with Sturgeon, Calderwood said this evening that she had resigned “with a heavy heart”, agreeing the “justifiable focus on my behaviour risks becoming a distraction from the hugely important job”.

In a statement, she added: “The most important thing to me now and over the next few very difficult months is that people across Scotland know what they need to do to reduce the spread of this virus, and that means they must have complete trust in those who give them advice.”

Calderwood will now work “over the next few days to ensure a smooth transition” to her successor.

Sturgeon paid tribute to her Calderwood, calling her a “transformational” chief medical officer.

“While she has made a very serious mistake in her actions, that should not detract from the fact that as CMO she has made a highly valuable contribution to the medical profession and to health in Scotland, and I have no doubt she will continue to do so in future,” Sturgeon said.

Criticism

Earlier, Sturgeon had said that she does not condone anyone breaking the guidance on preventing the spread of the virus, but added it would be “damaging not to have the ongoing advice and expertise” of Calderwood as chief medical officer.

Calderwood told a briefing at the Scottish Government headquarters in Edinburgh today that she had also visited the home in Fife last weekend with her husband.

Photos of Dr Calderwood and her family near a coastal retreat in Earlsferry were published in The Scottish Sun late on Saturday.

Police called to her home today and issued Calderwood with a warning. 

Scotland’s Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said in a statement: “Earlier today, local officers visited Dr Catherine Calderwood and spoke to her about her actions, reiterated crucial advice and issued a warning about her future conduct, all of which she accepted.

“The legal instructions on not leaving your home without a reasonable excuse apply to everyone.”

Just days earlier, the 51-year-old chief medical officer tweeted a photo of her family at their main residence in Edinburgh as they clapped for the frontline NHS staff working to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Earlsferry is a drive of more than an hour from Edinburgh.

Apology

In a statement earlier today, Calderwood said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the issue reported in the media today.

“While there are reasons for what I did, they do not justify it and they were not legitimate reasons to be out of my home.

“While I and my family followed the guidance on social distancing at all times, I understand that I did not follow the advice I am giving to others, and I am truly sorry for that.

“I know how important this advice is and I do not want my mistake to distract from that.”

Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said there was no doubt Dr Calderwood’s visit – which the Scottish Government confirmed was an overnight stay to “check on a family home” – was “ill-advised”.

He added: “I’m saying to everybody… do not go out except in the very exceptional circumstances that are listed, think about these things and remember by breaking them you are risking lives.”

Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele said policing the pandemic had been made more difficult and stressed checking on a second home is not one of the “reasonable excuses” providing an exception to emergency coronavirus legislation.

He tweeted: “In defending the indefensible has the Scottish Government not just thrown the CMO under the bus? Checking on a 2nd home is not one of the prescribed reasonable excuses.”

In a joint statement, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie and Wendy Chamberlain, the MSP and MP respectively for the area where Dr Calderwood has her second home, said: “It is difficult to see how the chief medical officer will be able to carry the important messages about the virus and the lockdown if she has not even followed it herself.”

They added: “If we are going to get through this pandemic we need medical leaders who everyone can follow. It is with great regret that we say that the chief medical officer will need to go.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon also called for Calderwood to stand down, while Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said her position is “untenable” and the Scottish Greens said she can “no longer credibly front” the public health campaign.

Earlier, Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch said his colleague would not have put people in the area of her holiday home at risk.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: “My understanding is that she has worked like the rest of us 24/7 on this for weeks now and that family do have a home a little bit away from Edinburgh and they went to check on it.

“They observed social distancing throughout, so they were very safe. Nobody knows those guidelines better than Catherine and the rest of us.

“So I’m confident that she was safe during that, her family were safe and those around them were safe.”

Last month, the Scottish Government issued a travel warning criticising the “irresponsible behaviour” of people with second homes and campervans travelling to the Highlands in a bid to isolate.

With reporting from Dominic McGrath

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