Clockwise: Monica Lennon, Donald MacAskill, Nicola Sturgeon, Jackie Baillie, Castleview and Crosslet care homes in Dumbarton, where residents died.
By Bill Heaney
Jackie Baillie MSP has demanded that Ministers in the SNP Government are held accountable for the discharge of elderly Covid-19 positive patients from hospitals to care homes.
She said: “That’s why I have backed calls for the Lord Advocate and Police Scotland to investigate how this happened, and it is right that a public inquiry is launched as soon as possible into the decisions made by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.”
The delayed Public Health Scotland report published this week confirms that between 1 March and 31 May 2017, at least 123 patients were discharged from hospital into care homes after testing positive.
The figures also reveal that 3,061 untested patients were discharged from hospital to care homes, at least 112 of whom remained untested after the guidance changed on 22 April.
Despite attempts to suggest that the discharges were unlikely to be a significant cause of outbreaks, 38% of homes with one or more discharge had an outbreak, compared to only 13% of homes with none.
The report and SNP Ministers have instead suggested that the transmission of the virus was in the main the responsibility of care staff.
Jackie Baillie MSP said the findings were an indictment of Ministers and their failure to put in place mass testing and of misjudgements in the early days of the pandemic.
Jackie Baillie MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh & Lomond said: “The decision to move patients with COVID-19 from hospitals into care homes was reckless and SNP Ministers must be held to account for this ‘Russian roulette’ strategy.
“The combination of knowingly transferring the virus into care homes and not bothering to test hundreds of other patients before moving them, is unfathomable.
“It will be extremely distressing to families in both West Dunbartonshire and Argyll & Bute to learn that Covid-19 positive patients were knowingly discharged from hospital to care homes.
“Care homes should not have had Covid-19 positive or untested patients discharged from hospital directly to them, but Scottish Government guidance from 13 March left the door open for this to happen.
“It is particularly galling that the report and SNP Government Ministers have suggested that this is the responsibility of care home staff.
“I have nothing but the highest regard for care home staff who tried to cope with the pandemic, despite not having access to sufficient PPE at the start.
“They have done their level best to care for our older people with dignity and compassion. It was the lack of testing by the Scottish Government that was to blame.
“The subsequent consequences for Scotland’s care home population is a national scandal.
“That’s why I have backed calls for the Lord Advocate and Police Scotland to investigate how this happened, and it is right that a public inquiry is launched as soon as possible into the decisions made by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the SNP government has been accused of playing “Russian roulette” over the discharge of patients who had tested positive for coronavirus into care homes last spring, as opposition parties reacted angrily to a delayed report that concluded the risk was “not statistically significant”.
Care industry representatives and unions have called for a more detailed inquiry to reflect the experience of staff, after the Public Health Scotland analysis confirmed that dozens of patients who tested positive for coronavirus, along with thousands who went untested, were discharged from Scottish hospitals into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic.
Although the report concludes that the risk of an outbreak associated with care home size is much larger than that from hospital discharge, it also states that it “cannot exclude a moderate to large excess risk from a care home receiving a discharge where the last test was positive”. It adds that – when considered alone – the risk of an outbreak in the period soon after a hospital discharge was 21% higher than it was in a period without a discharge.
It also presents figures that show new guidance on mandatory testing of discharged patients, introduced towards the end of April, was not applied consistently.
The report was described as evidence of a “Russian roulette strategy” by Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson, Monica Lennon.
Lennon said: “The combination of knowingly transferring the virus into care homes, and not bothering to test hundreds of other patients before moving them, is unfathomable.”
Calling for a public inquiry into what she described as “a scandal”, Scottish Conservatives’ Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson, said: “The SNP government’s response to this report is wholly inadequate and will give little comfort to those grieving families still trying to find out how and why their loved one died.”
Tory leader Ruth Davidson gets tore into First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Dr Donald MacAskill, the chief executive of Scottish Care, said that the voices of frontline workers were missing from the report, in particular those who “believe that Covid-19 was introduced into their care home community as a result of discharges”.
Referring to the report at her daily briefing, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, admitted she had expected a different conclusion from the report, which was commissioned by the Scottish government after investigative reporter Marian Scott, of the Sunday Post, revealed in August that at least 37 patients with a positive test had been transferred to care homes as lockdown came into force, and following ongoing concerns about the decision to move untested patients.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said further work would take place to give a more detailed understanding of care home outbreaks.
She said: “Nothing in it [the report] detracts from the tragedy of the deaths that have occurred in care homes over the course of the pandemic, and nothing ever will detract from the heartbreak of those bereaved.
“Where the report’s conclusions highlight the need for additional measures, we will act on that.
“I want people to know we take this very seriously.”
Opposition politicians, however, said the report revealed a “scandalous dereliction” of public health duties.
Scottish Conservatives shadow health secretary Donald Cameron said: “Families who lost loved ones after Covid-positive hospital patients were knowingly discharged into care homes have been waiting months for answers from this SNP government.
“Today’s overdue report reveals a scandalous dereliction in the provision of public health to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“To see people’s worst fears confirmed by these statistics only adds to the need for full and frank disclosure from the SNP.”
Scottish Care, which represents private homes, said the report only told “part of the story”.
Chief executive Dr Donald MacAskill said: “The statistical analysis is thorough and highlights that the risks to care homes in terms of outbreaks are related to the size of a care home.
“This is because larger care homes tend to be nursing homes, dealing with more frail residents and those living with dementia; they have larger numbers of staff members and environmentally because of size present greater risks.
“What is missing amongst all the data and statistics, the numbers and charts, is the story of those who cared for residents in our care homes.
“I hope the researchers can take some time to listen to the experience of staff in care homes where there have been significant outbreaks.
“At the moment we have one side of the story, what is missing is the frontline experience of our care sector and its staff, the voices of those who received care and their families.”
He added: “The report is a reminder of the pain we have all endured. Its insight should become the energy to ensure that the whole health and care system really does support the care home sector in the weeks ahead, that it becomes each of our responsibilities to protect by our everyday action, putting the needs of the residents rather than the protection of any system or organisation at the heart of that shared focus.”