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Opponents: Ministers’ failures to unblock beds led to coronavirus care home disaster

© Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA WireHealth Secretary Jeane Freeman
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

Ministers’ failure to get a grip of NHS bed blocking years ago led to the wave of coronavirus that swept through Scotland’s care homes, according to opposition politicians.

The Lib Dems’ health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said earlier failures to secure care for elderly patients in the community meant too many were moved too quickly as hospitals braced themselves for an onslaught of Covid patients.

He spoke out as the Scottish Government came under sustained pressure over the failure to test 1,325 hospital patients for coronavirus before moving them into care homes in April and March.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The persistent failure to tackle the crisis in our social care sector is in large part responsible for the huge levels of bed blocking prior to the start of the Covid crisis.

“And the decision to decamp more than 1,300 patients into care homes and whose Covid status was unknown may be at the very heart of this tragedy.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman faced criticism from MSPs on the health committee last week after putting bed blocking hospital patients into care homes without testing them for Covid-19.

Both Ms Freeman and Nicola Sturgeon claimed World Health Organisation briefings said there was no documented transmission where there were no symptoms, but the advice actually said some people can be contagious for up to two weeks before showing symptoms.

Ms Freeman had previously been forced to correct the figures after she underestimated the number of patients being transferred to care homes without being tested.

On Friday, there had been 1,818 deaths linked to the virus in care homes since the outbreak began, three more than the 1,815 deaths in hospitals.

Yesterday’s figures revealed the number of deaths in Scotland of people who have tested positive for coronavirus rose by six to 2,415. The Scottish Government added 15,603 people have now tested positive across the country, an increase of 21 on the previous day.

Meanwhile, politicians from all opposition parties have criticised the First Minister and her Health Secretary after a week, they claim, of confusion and contradiction.

Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party MSPs have said ministers must be more willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

The First Minister was criticised for failing to use all of Scotland’s 15,500 daily testing capacity to ensure care homes were free of the virus.

Testing for all care home workers had been promised by May 18 but Ms Sturgeon was forced to admit that tests were not yet routine.

Ms Freeman said health boards had failed to deliver and had written to them to take action.

Last week all the health boards which responded to our inquiries reported low take-up of the Test and Protect scheme which requires contacts of people with the virus to isolate for 14 days.

NHS Tayside said a “small number” of cases were notified and a “small proportion” required contact tracing. NHS Dumfries and Galloway also reported “small numbers” and NHS Fife said numbers were “relatively low”.

Scottish Green health spokesperson Alison Johnstone said: “It beggars belief that this still isn’t happening, when we know the virus is at great risk of spreading in our care homes and hospitals.”

Former Labour shadow health minister Neil Findlay MSP said: “We’ve seen thousands of people dying, front line workers scrabbling around trying to get PPE, and the testing process has been slow and shambolic.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Miles Briggs said: “Health workers are deeply concerned about constant policy flip-flops, lack of testing and guidance on PPE.”

Scottish Shadow Secretary Ian Murray MP said: “This has been a week of evasion, confusion and contradiction from the SNP government. This is what happens when a government is so used to being secretive.”

The Scottish Government said: “Any claims that we have sought to mislead or conceal information are utterly unfounded. We now offer testing to all care home staff, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

“There has also been a dramatic increase in supplies of PPE since the start of the pandemic, with NHS National Services Scotland now supplying more than 4.6 million surgical masks – 50% more than the total of the previous year.”

We thought the home was a good place for mum to go. We thought it would be safer than hospital

The family of a woman who died in a Skye care home at the centre of a police investigation has told how she succumbed to coronavirus after being transferred there from hospital following a fall at her home.

Catriona MacLeod, 84, passed away from Covid-19 at Home Farm care home in Portree on May 4. The grandmother of six had been moved there from Portree Hospital at the end of March, as the pandemic crisis deepened.

The deaths of three residents at the home are now being probed by police after 10 residents died in a Covid-19 outbreak.

Catriona’s son John, also from Skye, said: “Mum was moved to Home Farm because Portree Hospital was being turned into a coronavirus centre,” he said. “We thought the care home would be the safest place for her because she was still recovering from a bad fall.

“At that point the Covid-19 crisis in the care homes wasn’t widely known about.”

Catriona MacLeod was transferred from hospital to care home

John said his mother was only at Home Farm for a few weeks when she tested positive for coronavirus but she didn’t appear to have any symptoms.

“A few days later we got a phone call out the blue from a nurse at the home to say she had died. Her death certificate said Covid-19 was the cause. We still can’t get our heads around what happened.”

“The sad thing was we couldn’t visit her during her last week in the hospital or after she went to the care home, so we never got the chance to say a proper goodbye.”.

Police Scotland has said it is looking into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of three elderly woman – none of them Mrs MacLeod – at the care home.

The outbreak led to all affected staff being sent home and their families asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

The owners of Home Farm, HC-One, recently faced being stripped of its licence to operate the facility following concerns about the way it had been run.

However, last month a sheriff ruled that the company could continue operating the site until at least June 10 after it reached an agreement with NHS Highlands and partner agencies that would allow management concerns at the home to be investigated.

John said: “There is no way we are blaming the care home staff or nurses.

“They gave my mother some tremendous care.

“The irony is that she used to work as a carer herself. She was a great character and very well known in the area.

“My four children miss their grandmother very much. We are all still trying to come to terms with the manner of her passing.”

HC-One confirmed that Catriona had died at Home Farm two days after testing positive, saying: “Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mrs MacLeod’s family at this difficult time, and with all families who have lost loved ones from coronavirus.”

NHS Highland said the last admission to the care home was in late March – which is around the time Catriona arrived there – and the outbreak was declared at the beginning of May.

A spokesperson said: “While we can’t comment on individual cases, NHS Highland has a process in place whereby we advise precautionary isolation for any patient discharged to a care home from a hospital.

“As soon as Covid-19 is identified in a care home setting the home is immediately closed to any new admissions.”