It’s time to look after our old folk and the workforce and the social care workers who staff our care of the elderly services.

By Bill Heaney

Labour leader Richard Leonard told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that older people and those with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk from the spread of Covid-19.

He told MSPs: “Many of us are rightly concerned about parents and grandparents, especially those who are being cared for either in their own homes or in residential care.

“Escalation and additional resourcing of the national health service are, without question, necessary, but will not be sufficient.

“Will the First Minister tell us what contingency plans there are to ensure that essential social care services are properly supported?”

The answers will give no comfort to basket case West Dunbartonshire Council who decided to jettison their policy of community provision for old people in favour of one large home accommodating more than 75 people at Crosslet in Dumbarton.

Critics have said the SNP-run Council have turned the clock back to the days when older people were accommodated in what were then known as “granny farms” and “poorhouses”.

They have been placed “at the back of beyond” where the only public transport access for their visitors is via the A82 and they need to cross a dangerous dual carriageway to get there.

Despite having the crossing dangers flagged up to them on numerous occasions, it has taken two years since the penny dropped with the Council and planning one began.

They are now boasting of a new high tech plan which looks over complicated for elderly people and dementia sufferers to understand and operate.

It was revealed by experts that if the virus takes a hold at a large residential home, one third of the residents over 70 are in serious risk of dying.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston said the outbreak in the UK is expected to become so serious that a significant number of people are likely to lose their elderly loved ones.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Richard Leonard was “absolutely right to talk about the importance of protecting older people and those with underlying health conditions.

“The focus of discussions so far—which are being informed very much by scientific advice—has, in broad terms, been twofold.

“First, how do we slow down the spread of the virus and reduce the peak impact, so that the pressure of that peak on our national health service is reduced as much as possible?

“Secondly, how do we protect those who are most at risk of becoming most seriously unwell? The vast majority of people who get this infection will have mild symptoms, but that will not be true for some.

“Advice that will be given—perhaps not immediately, but over the coming days—to older people and, particularly, to those with compromised immune systems, which will be important.

“Of course, patients who have severely compromised immune systems will already have guidance about what to do and what not to do, and it is important that that guidance is followed.

“The points about social care are very important. Often, for shorthand, we talk about the national health service. That is vital, but the contribution of social care—not just in care homes, but in the community—will also be absolutely vital.”

Freeman JeaneShe added that Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, left,  has already had discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities “as COSLA has a critical part to play in making sure that those contingency plans are in place and are ready to be implemented.

“I assure Richard Leonard that all those plans are well advanced with a view to implementation and that we will continue to progress them.”

Mr Leonard then spoke up for social care workers who “are the bedrock not only of our care services but of our communities, and we know, from the Scottish Government’s own fair work convention, that 83 per cent of that workforce are women.

“More than one in 10 social care workers are on zero hours’ contracts, one in five is on a temporary contract and their average pay is less than £10 an hour.

“Yet, they are on the front line of the battle against the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Alongside our health service workers, they need our unwavering support.”

He asked what additional resources the Scottish Government plans to allocate to social care – “Given the complexity of the commissioning and contracting system, how will the First Minister ensure that any additional resources find their way through to support and protect those workers on the front line?”

Nicola Sturgeon replied: “I will genuinely try to be as helpful as possible on the resources question. There were some helpful announcements in the budget yesterday, but it is a simple fact that we do not yet know the quantum [how much money] that will come to the Scottish Government, whether for non-domestic rates assistance or for the national health service. Nor do we yet know the basis on which that funding will be allocated. I hope that we will get clarity on that soon.

“I give a commitment to pass on everything that is intended for health and social care to health and social care and to be transparent in updating the Parliament as soon as we have the detail of that.

“We have just set our budget, and it involves additional resources for health and social care. Nevertheless, we will look across our budget at the ways in which we need to change what we are doing and how we are doing it to support the efforts to deal with the challenge in the weeks ahead.

“On the question of commissioning, it is absolutely the case that we will allocate additional resources in particular areas and perhaps not use the usual methods of allocation, in order to make sure that the money gets to exactly where it is needed.

“I agree with the member’s point about the social care workforce. The points about zero-hours contracts and insecure employment feed into and underline what I said earlier. We still need to do more to support individuals who will end up in hardship because of the situation.

“Regarding the social care workforce, in particular, the discussions that we are having and the plans that we are looking at involve very quickly ensuring additional training for that workforce and making sure they have the equipment and kit that they need to deal with the very different challenges they will face.

“We are going to face a significant challenge in the weeks and months to come—there is no getting away from that. A significant number of us will get the infection; we cannot make a virus like this simply go away. The challenge, and our responsibility, is to manage the situation as best we can by doing what I have already spoken about: giving the public the right advice and supporting those on the front line to the best of our ability. I assure the Parliament that that is what I, the health secretary, and the Government as a whole are absolutely focused on.”

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