Covid in Scotland: Families demand apology over care home ban

Alison Leitch
Alison Leitch campaigned for more access to loved ones in care homes

By Democrat reporter

Families of care home residents banned from visiting their relatives during the Covid pandemic have demanded an official apology, according to a report on BBC Scotland.

Campaigners, including people from West Dunbartonshire whose relatives died in local homes such as Crosslet,  want to know why restrictions were tougher than for other members of the public.

It comes as the judge leading the probe into Scotland’s Covid response sets out how the investigation will run.

Alison Leitch, of the Care Home Relatives Scotland group, said: “Why were we treated differently to staff?”

She added: “Hopefully this is never allowed to happen again.”

Preliminary hearings at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh on Monday formally opened the inquiry’s public evidence gathering.

Inquiry chairman Lord Brailsford will tell core participants how the hearings will work.

The Scottish inquiry is separate from the UK Covid Inquiry which began in mid-June.

This week’s preliminary sessions will set up the first set of full hearings which will begin in late October.

Those hearings will gather as much evidence as possible on the impact of the Covid-19 response, and of the pandemic itself, on the people of Scotland.

The Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry has divided its investigation into three themes: health and social care, education and young people, and business, finance and welfare.  Health and social care will be the focus of the first phase of the process.

Lord Brailsford
Scottish Covid inquiry will be chaired by Lord Brailsford with Amer Anwar in background.

Like the UK Covid Inquiry, proceedings opened with a reflective film and a moment of remembrance acknowledging those who lost their lives to the virus.

Just under 227,000 people died in the UK with Covid-19 listed as one of the causes on their death certificate.

This figure covers the pandemic up until 5 May 2023, when the World Health Organization declared an end to the virus as a “global health emergency”.

The Scottish Inquiry will unpack the decisions made by the Scottish government throughout the pandemic, from introducing lockdown to the delivery of testing and vaccines.

It will also focus on infection control in care homes, including the transfer of patients from hospitals.

On several occasions, Scottish guidance to the public differed to that being given in other parts of the UK.

The Care Home Relatives Scotland (CHRS) group, which has about 2,000 members, is among those participating in the inquiry.

It campaigned throughout the lockdowns for more access to relatives in care homes.

Co-founder Alison Leitch, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “We really want to get started with finding out the rationale for what was done to our loved ones and hopefully get an apology and Anne’s Law so this is never allowed to happen again.”

According to Anne’s Law, care home residents would be allowed a named visitor even if restrictions are in place.

Ms Leitch’s mother Kathleen, 76, has dementia and lives in a care home in Fife.

The disease has left her non-verbal and Ms Leitch usually uses touch and body language to communicate with her mother.

Cathie Russell and her mother
Cathie Russell with her mother, who died four weeks after this picture was taken

She said: “In summer 2021, my friends could go out for dinner with their mum, there were travel corridors, staff could go out – but I had to sit two metres away from my mum head to toe in plastic.

“Why were we any more harm to our relatives than the staff?

“Most of us were unpaid carers before our loved ones moved into care and we were suddenly just cut off – we were no longer seen as part of that care package.”

Group co-founder, Cathie Russell whose mother Rose has since died, said: “Once the pandemic struck, there was a full year that I never got to actually be with my mum.

“I was very fortunate in that we were reunited and psychologically that’s made a massive difference to me.

“But I see lots of others who didn’t have that benefit and who didn’t get to see their loved ones for maybe nine months and then they died.

“And they cannot compute that at all, they can’t get over it.”

sign in Edinburgh
The Scottish inquiry will examine the Scottish government’s response to the pandemic

Ms Russell was reunited with her mother Rose Hamilton in March 2021 and Mrs Hamilton died four months later.

“The inquiry is a massive task, but we are hoping that we will get some early recommendations that will assist with the care home situation,” she added.

Inquiry delays

The independent inquiry, which is funded by the Scottish government, has faced a number of delays.

Judge Lady Poole was appointed in December 2021 to chair the inquiry, but she resigned in October 2022 for personal reasons.

Members of the Scottish branch of the UK group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and solicitor Aamer Anwar
Members of the Scottish branch of the UK group Covid-19 Bereaved Families and solicitor Aamer Anwar arrive at Murrayfield

Just one day later, four members of the inquiry’s legal team stood down.

In July this year, it emerged the inquiry had so far cost £8m to set up.

Campaigners were also critical that the inquiry heard on its first day from Dr Ashley Croft, a consultant in public health accused of vaccine-scepticism.

They called the meeting in Dundee in July “shameful and shambolic” and condemned laughter during proceedings and what they described as a lack of respect paid to those who had died from the virus.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry began last August and has already heard from a number of people involved in Scotland’s response to the pandemic, including the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The UK and Scottish inquiries have agreed, where possible, not to sit at the same time when they are considering material which is relevant to both.

Highly critical

This means the UK Covid-19 Inquiry will be sitting in Scotland in January of next year and the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry will not.

Aamer Anwar, the lead solicitor for the Scottish Covid Bereaved group, said relatives were likely to be highly critical of progress so far.

He told BBC Scotland News: “Our politicians stand accused of presiding over a carousel of chaos and those who lost loved ones refuse to be invisible in their misery, they believed this inquiry would illuminate the truth.

“Over the last year, this inquiry has spent nearly £8m, so the very least the families were entitled to expect was a gold plated, robust and fearless inquiry, no different to the UK inquiry.

“Sadly, so far, the experience of the bereaved has been a shambolic, third-rate inquiry, that looks incapable of delivering the truth and accountability.”

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