Labour leader Richard Leonard – “many old people faced an absolutely unnecessarily uncomfortable and painful death”

Tragedy of Scotland’s care homes was ‘a predictable crisis’

Castleview and Crosslet care homes in Dumbarton, Labour leader Richard Leonard and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

By Bill Heaney

For the first two months of the pandemic, the Scottish Government was “in denial” and was too slow to take responsibility for protecting care home residents.

Labour leader Richard Leonard told the Scottish Parliament: “The lack of fair work that I referred to in the social care sector is part of a bigger problem, which has been identified today in a new report published by Common Weal.

“It calls the tragedy that we have seen in Scotland’s care homes a “predictable crisis”. It sets out how, over years, the Government has left responsibility for the provision of care services to private providers, while regulation and inspection regimes have been limited.

“Despite warnings from pandemic planning exercises of the weaknesses in social care, the Government did nothing, so that when the Covid-19 virus reached Scotland, we were badly unprepared.”

The Common Weal report goes on to suggest that, for the first two months of the pandemic, the Scottish Government was “in denial” and was too slow to take responsibility for protecting care home residents.

It concludes that, had the Government accepted responsibility at the beginning, “many lives would have been saved”, and that leaving the provision of care up to providers “almost certainly means many old people faced an absolutely unnecessarily uncomfortable and painful death.”

Mr Leonard added: “I accept that the report is difficult reading, but it requires a response. Residents and their families want answers. Care homes have not been given enough priority, and the consequences are devastating.

“Does the First Minister accept that the crisis in care homes was predictable? How will she ensure that, in the road map that she sets out tomorrow [Thursday], the well-being of care home residents is given the priority that it should always have had?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replied that the well-being of care home residents has always been a priority for the Scottish government – “and it always will be”.

She added: “The model of social care in Scotland has not fundamentally changed under this Government; it has been in place for a long, long time.

“There has to be further discussion and thinking that questions are now being raised about the appropriateness and fitness for purpose of that model in the long term, and I am sure that we will come back to those issues in due course as a Parliament and as a society.

“In the here and now, on the situation with the virus, we have been dealing and are continuing to deal, as are Governments across the world, with an evolving situation. Our knowledge of the virus, and its impacts and how it behaves, is developing all the time, so there will inevitably be areas where, if we had had the knowledge then that we have now, we may have taken different decisions.

“That will be an inevitable part of assessing how the crisis has been handled here and in other parts of the world.”

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “I hope that people accept and understand that, while it is the easiest thing in the world to apply hindsight now, we do not have the benefit of hindsight when we take those decisions—nobody does. In due course, there will be a systemic look at things that were done or not done, and the lessons that have been learned from that.

“We try to learn as we go along, but at every stage we take the decisions that we think are best, and we do so for the right reasons.

“That is why guidance was published in early March in respect of care homes in particular, telling people and providers what they should be doing as part of the management of care homes to prevent and control infection.

“We have extended testing as we have built capacity, and we have expanded it as our knowledge of the virus has developed.

“One aspect of the virus around which knowledge has developed and continues to do so is asymptomatic transmission, so we have had to adapt our response not just in care homes but more generally.

“I know that it is always tempting for people to say that this was predictable and that we should have known all of that, but we absolutely learn lessons as we go and ensure that we take the best decisions based on the best knowledge and understanding that we have at the time.”

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