BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK
It used to be the fashion in newspapers that whenever there was a really big story, reporters would be asked to write a “20 things you should know about” whatever the subject in hand happened to be.
The last one of these I helped to compile was with Jane Franchi, of BBC Scotland, about dramatic rescues from the Piper Alpha disaster, when I was working a shift for the Sunday Mail in Glasgow. Jane was working from Aberdeen.
I decided to put a similar piece together today for The Democrat as an aid to giving readers a clearer picture than has so far emerged about a disaster much worse than Piper Alpha, which was an oil production platform in the North Sea, approximately 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen.
An explosion and resulting oil and gas fires destroyed Piper Alpha on July 6, 1988, killing 167 people, including two crewmen of a rescue vessel; 61 workers escaped and survived. Thirty bodies were never recovered.
Today, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the number people who have died in hospital in Scotland exceeded 500 yesterday. That is three times the figure for those who perished on Piper Alpha.
The number of virus-related deaths for the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is still and integral part, is creeping steadily towards 10,000 and is gathering pace.
Many people are deeply concerned about the rising number of care workers and NHS staff who have died in this epidemic.
It will exceed Piper Alpha many times over and most probably run into thousands.
We need to bring this home to people, who are still ignoring the Government instruction to stay safe and stay at home. Just do it.
The ones who will insist on going off to the park, with and without their children, to roll Easter eggs and sunbathe in the fine weather are risking not just their own lives but the lives of others.
Nicola Sturgeon, Jonathan McColl, Joyce White and Crosslet House.
They should remember that people not far from them are dying and that they – in their ignorance – could be spreading this pestilence that has engulfed us.
While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been able to issue statistics for the number of Scots who have died since the outbreak of the coronavirus, she has had to admit that they were never accurate.
And that she has no accurate figures, nor even estimates, of the number of people who have died in care homes for the elderly, or for those who have died in their own home or with relatives.
There is great sadness and concern for those families who are swithering over whether to keep their critically ill relatives with them at home.
The stark choice facing them is this: Keep your loved one at home and have “end of life” nurses come to the house, or “send them to hospital and you may never see them again”.
While we have only inaccurate figures for national statistics, we have no figures at all for the numbers who have fallen victim to the plague while in care homes.
We need these figures in order to gauge just how serious this is; and how to place them in context of what is happening in our own community here in West Dunbartonshire.
And, importantly, how we are coping as a community.
We have asked West Dunbartonshire Council and its SNP leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl, to speak to The Democrat.
We ask only that they treat us in a similar way to the rest of the media, and not to insist on implementing petty rules which have never been approved for any public organisation, including themselves.
It is our journalistic role in a democracy to ask questions about our care homes
We believe the public should have answers to our questions given that these homes are ours, and that we pay for the services provided through the Council and the Health and Social Care Partnership.
Will Cllr McColl, making use of his £500,000 Communications Department budget and £125,000 a year Chief Executive Joyce White, answer the following:
How many care homes does the council have? Can you name them? How many people work in these homes and on the administration side of them?
How many members of staff in these homes have died or contracted coronavirus, and what has the rate of absence of social care workers been during this pandemic?
How many fully qualified nurses are employed in care homes? How many auxiliary nurses and care assistants? How many doctors?
Care workers and Catherine Sweeney, the council worker who died.
How much money has been allocated to run them and by whom has this been agreed during the current financial year?
Was this money increased or decreased in this year’s allocation to the running of care homes; what was the amount and when was this decision made?
What is the situation with Personal Protection Equipment? Was the home care worker who died, the late Catherine Sweeney from Dumbarton, issued with this equipment, all of it or some of it?
Will you express condolences on behalf of the community and the council for what happened to her?
Why is the Health and Social Care Committee chaired by an unelected lay person, and why did West Dunbartonshire Council refuse to name this person and give details of his background when they were asked?
Is this chairperson someone with a special interest/skill in healthcare, or is he someone whose main interest has been in finance and accountancy?