VIRUS: STURGEON DENIES IT’S A CRISIS WITHIN A CRISIS

Richard Leonard. a frontline NHS worker and Nicola Sturgeon.

By Bill Heaney

People are not just afraid but angry about the coronavirus sweeping through Scotland’s residential care homes, according to Scotland’s Labour Party leader.
Richard Leonard told Scottish parliamentary leaders today: “Yesterday’s figures showed that as many as one in four of the recorded deaths has been of a person who was a resident in our care home sector.
“People whom I speak to are afraid, but they are also angry. They cannot understand why, up until now, so few tests have been carried out in the care home sector, and why so many people who work in the sector still do not have the adequate personal protective equipment that they need. How can the First Minister justify that situation?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I would not justify that situation, even if I thought that that was a fair representation.

We are continuing to work to ensure, first, that PPE supplies are sufficient and that we get them quickly and efficiently to the front line, where they are needed. We monitor supplies literally daily—several times daily. We have streamlined and continue to streamline the distribution routes. This week, having set up the triage system and the local hubs, we have been in discussions about trying to get more of the supply directly to care homes. That is an on-going process that has absolute importance attached to it.

“As we have built the capacity of testing, so, too, are we testing more people—care workers and residents, as well. Already, more than 12,000 health and care workers and, where appropriate, their families have been tested, and absence rates in the health service related to Covid-19 have been falling, which, I hope, is due partly to that.

“Just under 20 per cent of that total number are staff in the social care sector. Obviously, we want to get that percentage up; as we increase testing capacity, that will happen.

“Those are areas of on-going progress. We are putting in place new systems quickly and, as we go, we are resolving issues, glitches and problems along the way. That is a daily process that will continue through the crisis that we are in.”

But Richard Leonard hit back: “Trade unions have described the situation in our care homes as a ‘crisis within a crisis’, and today’s newspapers report soaring levels of staff absenteeism in our care home sector.

 

“The Scottish Government has repeatedly been asked how many workers have been tested, and we have been repeatedly promised that the figures will be published regularly.

“Does the Scottish Government know the figure for the number of care home workers who have been tested? If so, can the First Minister tell us today what that figure is? If not, why not?”

There are about 600 care home workers in West Dunbartonshire and South Argyll and about the same number of residents in residential homes, the largest looking after about 70 residents.

Ms Sturgeon said: “With respect, I point out that I gave that figure in my previous answer, when I said that more than 12,000 health and care workers and, where appropriate, their families have been tested, and that just under 20 per cent of that figure is care workers and, where appropriate, their families.

“Remember that when it is a family member who is symptomatic, it is the family member who needs to be tested, not the worker. As I said, just under 20 per cent of the 12,300 health and care workers who have been tested are in the social care sector. I gave that answer in my first response.

“More generally, in terms of the care home situation and Mr Leonard’s characterisation of it as a ‘crisis within a crisis’, we must recognise that Covid-19 is a virus that we know older people are more susceptible to becoming seriously unwell with, or dying from.

“We also know that in any institution, including care homes, there will be greater susceptibility to the spread of an infection such as Covid-19. That makes it all the more important that we treat care homes with particular care and attention, so that is what we are doing.

“With the coronavirus, we see that there are issues about community transmission, that there are challenges around hospital-acquired, or nosocomial, infection—which we are looking at particularly—and that there is also risk of infection within care homes.

“All those issues are being treated seriously, but infection prevention and control, appropriate use of testing and, of course, ensuring that the staff have appropriate protection are all essential priorities, as we deal with the issue.”

“The expression, “crisis within a crisis” is not mine; it is the expression of the trade unions that organise in the care home sector.

“Part of my question was about the regularity with which information is published. It is important that the Government is accountable, and that it regularly publishes the number of people who have been tested—national health service workers and those who work in the social care sector.

“People are saying to me that they feel that the Scottish Government is being too slow—the expression that they often use is “too little, too late”. There is real fear about that, and that is the warning that is being given to me. Does the First Minister disagree with that view?”

The First Minister disagreed:  “We are in an unprecedented crisis; the entire world is dealing with an unprecedented crisis. By its very nature, it is a rapidly evolving situation. Every day, all Governments are being challenged to make sure that the speed of our response is commensurate with the scale of the challenge.

“We are working incredibly hard to do that. As well as putting in place systems and responses, we are adapting and changing them, and we are responding to any flaws in them as we go. That is not easy, but it is our responsibility and we will continue to do it to the best of our ability.

“I absolutely agree with the point about accountability. Right now, the Scottish Government is, I think, publishing more up-to-date information than any other Government in the United Kingdom.

“For example, the figures for the total number of Covid-related deaths that we published yesterday are more up to date than any such information from elsewhere in the UK. We are continuing to look at how we can break down as much as possible the information that we publish.

We intend to publish figures such as I have given to Richard Leonard more regularly, but some of the data that we are gathering now is not data that we have gathered previously; we are gathering it now for this purpose. Therefore, we must make sure that the systems for gathering it are producing data that is reliable and robust.

“As soon as we are confident that it is, we will—as we have done on many things—move to regular publication. That will apply to the figures that I have mentioned. At the moment, we publish daily figures on the number of tests that have been carried out; we will publish breakdowns of those figures as we become confident in the robustness of the information.”

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