DEMOCRAT special report by BILL HEANEY
Jackie Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond has warned the Scottish Government that lives will continue to be lost in care homes until it delivers “a robust and thorough action plan for fighting Covid-19 in our care homes”.
She has raised grave concerns that lives could have been saved, had care home staff been provided with proper PPE, and there had been testing of staff and residents. People have been dying since March.
West Dunbartonshire has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
For the first time last week, more Covid-19 related deaths happened in West Dunbartonshire care homes than in hospitals.
West Dunbartonshire has one of the highest Covid-19 death figures for per head of the population.
On 4 April, the sad news emerged that much-loved Dumbarton care home staff member, Catherine Sweeney, had passed away from Covid-19.
Jackie Baillie shared her condolences with Catherine’s family and loved ones and called on the Scottish Government to immediately provide all care home and social care staff with a full supply of PPE — and for all symptomatic staff and residents to be tested and cared for accordingly.
It then emerged that HC One’s privately run Castle View care home in Glasgow Road, Dumbarton, had seen ten deaths in eleven days.
The GMB union and Jackie Baillie were contacted on 6 April by staff who shared testimonies that PPE was locked away in cupboards with managers saying that protection was not needed.
Jackie Baillie called for an immediate investigation into the conduct of Castle View management and urged the Scottish Government to make PPE wearing compulsory within Scotland’s care homes.
On April 19, Jackie Baillie was approached by staff members at Crosslet House care home in Dumbarton.
She was informed that fifteen residents at Crosslet House had died of suspected Covid-19 in less than a month.
She was subsequently contacted by numerous family members and staff raising serious concerns as to the homes handling of the crisis.
Despite this, senior care home managers were telling families and staff that the home was ‘Covid-free’, no testing of residents had taken place and staff had not been given the PPE needed to protect both themselves and their patients from the virus.
Once again, Jackie Baillie raised concerns with the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, and action was then taken to increase testing of residents.
Ms Freeman told the Scottish Parliament that what had happened at Crosslet House was both disgraceful and completely unacceptable.
Cllr Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP administration at West Dunbartonshire Council who run the home, said Ms Baillie was lying and that the situation was nothing like it had been portrayed by her.
Today, Cllr McColl had still not apologised to the MSP and he has made it clear he will not make any comment to The Democrat.
Jackie Baillie said: “The timeline of how Covid-19 has torn through our local care homes highlights a consistent failing from the Scottish Government to act.
“Social care workers, family members and trade unions have been calling for urgent action to be taken for months now.
“The Scottish Government has not acted quickly enough and has not listened to cries for help from frontline staff, and as a result, the death toll has risen.
“There are serious questions to answer. I do welcome the changes that have been made but, for the families who have already lost loved ones, this action is too little too late.”
She added: “As ever, my thanks go to the incredibly hard-working staff in the social care sector who are trying to care for and protect residents in impossible circumstances.
“My deepest sympathies go to the families of those who have sadly passed away.
“I hope that the Scottish Government acts fast to ensure that more families do not have to go through the same experience and we afford our older people in care homes the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Meanwhile, the MSP has raised serious concerns that West Dunbartonshire has the second worst Covid-19 deaths per head of the population, coming second only to Inverclyde, which takes in Greenock, Gourock and Largs.
Combining figures of Covid-19 deaths released by the National Records of Scotland with the population of local authorities, as of 26 April, West Dunbartonshire had 7.85 Covid-19 deaths per 10,000 people. This is compared to Glasgow’s 5.87 and Edinburgh’s 4.19 deaths per 10,000 people.
Jackie Baillie says she has continuously raised concerns regarding the extent to which Covid-19 has affected West Dunbartonshire.
And today she has called on the Scottish Government to better protect key workers in the constituency and has repeatedly raised the particular issue of Covid-19 deaths in Dumbarton care homes.
The neighbouring local authority of Argyll and Bute, which Jackie Baillie also represents, has been impacted by Covid-19. As of 26 April, the area has seen 4.87 deaths per 10,000 people. This is higher than the Scottish average of 4.19 Covid-19 related deaths.
The MSP believes there is a direct link between levels of poverty and deprivation and the number of covid 19 deaths in the area.
She is calling for additional measures and in particular more testing for local people to catch the symptoms early.
She told The Democrat: “It is sobering but not completely surprising to learn that West Dunbartonshire has the second highest number of Covid-19 deaths per head of the population.
“My office has been inundated with worried local key workers and family members who share stories of the way that the virus is being handled.
“Staff in the social care sector have not, until very recently, been provided with the proper PPE needed to carry out their jobs safely.
“Serious concerns have been raised with me about our older people in care homes and the lack of testing for both residents and staff until very late in the day.
“The Scottish Government must work harder to ensure that every worker, patient and resident is properly protected and supported.
“Without an immediate, urgent action plan, that tackles poverty and inequality, the death toll will continue to rise in areas like Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire.
“We should be testing the whole population as well as key workers, quicker and earlier.
“The 10,000 target for testing set by the First Minister Nicola Surgeon has been missed by a long way and we need to ramp up provision at a local level.
“My thanks goes to all the hard working key workers who are fighting to keep us safe in unimaginable circumstances.”