The late Mary Rose Crozier, right, with her daughters Dorothy O’Donnell and Mary Carr, who were not allowed inside the council-run Crosslet Care Home in Dumbarton to visit their mother and who joined a group to have the restrictions lifted.
By Bill Heaney and Andrew Picken, of BBC Scotland News
Care home residents were treated like “exhibits in a reptile house” because of pandemic restrictions that limited visiting, Scotland’s Covid inquiry has heard.
Lawyer Amber Galbraith KC, representing care home relatives, said the restrictions had an “unnecessarily disproportionate” impact on people in homes.
The first hearing of the inquiry also heard how care home operators felt abandoned by GPs.
The judge-chaired public inquiry is investigating Scotland’s response to the pandemic.
The inquiry’s approach is to look at the impact of the pandemic first, before turning to how decisions to respond to the crisis were taken, and then how Covid policies were implemented.
Ms Galbraith, speaking on behalf of campaign group Care Home Relatives Scotland, said many residents were left at times feeling “isolated, unheard, and discriminated against”.
She added: “Relatives were not afforded the same opportunity to interact with their loved one that employed carers had. Why were carers considered less of a risk to health than parents or children?
“Their mental state may have been such that all they knew was being suddenly left with no visits, no touch, not even allowed to see others in the home.”
She compared care home residents’ experience of restrictions where they may have seen relatives only through a window to being “an exhibit”.
She said: “Perhaps they would be paraded out behind glass like an exhibit at a reptile museum or a prisoner.”
The inquiry heard from The Royal College of Nursing Scotland which argued that it was “impossible to provide nursing care in an absolutely safe manner during the pandemic” and criticised Scottish government resistance to demands for better personal protective equipment for frontline staff.
Scottish Care, the umbrella body for private care homes, said its members faced “clinical abandonment” in the early phase of the pandemic, with operators struggling to access GP services for their residents.
The body said some of the infection control rules placed on care homes were more suited to hospitals because they did not take into account the fact that care homes are people’s own homes, places where they live full-time.
In his opening remarks, inquiry chairman Lord Brailsford offered his “sincere condolences” to those, including the families of people who died in local care homes such as council-run Crosslet House in Dumbarton, who lost loved ones to Covid.
He opened proceedings by promising that the inquiry would act “without fear or favour” and would report as soon as possible.
He extended his “deepest sympathies” to all affected by the pandemic, adding, “for the families of the bereaved and those still living with Covid-related conditions, the pandemic’s legacy will never end.”
Among those attending the first day of evidence was Alan Inglis, whose asthmatic son Calum died alone in his prison cell after testing positive for Covid.
Alan Inglis tested positive for Covid on 12 October, 2021 while serving a short sentence at the privately-run HMP Addiewell in West Lothian and died on 24 October after his health deteriorated rapidly.
His father gave a statement outside the inquiry hearing in Edinburgh, calling for answers over the “barbaric” way his unvaccinated son was treated.
He said: “He reported being breathless and coughing up significant amounts of blood.
“In the last four days of his life he repeatedly requested medical attention via his cell intercom, to be promised by the prison officers that someone would see him.
“The Scottish Covid Inquiry must find out which protocols the prison were following at this time, protocols that would allow such barbaric behaviour to take place, and to examine the staff work culture within that prison, where staff must have known how ill my son was, yet did nothing.”
HMP Addiewell is a private prison run by Sodexo Justice Services on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service.
A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said: “Our thoughts continue to be with the family and loved ones of Mr Inglis.
“The Scottish Prison Service is fully committed to working with the Scottish Covid Inquiry and supporting its important work.”
Margaret Waterton, 67, who lost her mother Margaret Simpson, 86, and her husband David Waterton, 71, during the pandemic, and is a member of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group, said: “Covid has been absolutely devastating for me and my family and every man, woman and child in Scotland has felt the impact of Covid. This is a landmark day for Scottish Covid Bereaved, for the people of Scotland.
“We are looking now for the inquiry to deliver for us truth, justice, accountability.”
Alex Mitchell, of the Scottish Vaccine Injury Group, which represents people injured or bereaved as a result of rare adverse reactions to Covid vaccines, said his hopes for the inquiry were “about getting recognition and acceptance that we still need help and support”.
Counsel Stuart Gale KC, revealed that more than 4,000 people had so far responded to a major public consultation asking for people’s experiences of the pandemic.
Geoffrey Mitchell KC, senior counsel for the Scottish government, told the inquiry the “pain, suffering and endurance” created by the pandemic was “recognised and acknowledged” by Scottish ministers.
He said: “The Scottish government understands that legitimate questions arise as to whether this suffering needed to be so great.”
He added that the Scottish government would give “great respect and consideration” to learning lessons from the inquiry’s work.
Some care home residents may have been “neglected and left to starve” during the pandemic, inquiry was expected to hear.
Lawyers representing bereaved relatives said they anticipate the inquiry will hear some that people were forced into agreeing to “do not resuscitate” plans.
This included cases at Crosslet House, Dumbarton, where do not resuscitate notes were placed with their records, without the permission or knowledge of themselves or their families.
Shelagh McCall KC told the inquiry that evidence to be led would “point to a systemic failure of the model of care”.
Ms McCall is representing Bereaved Relatives Group Skye, a group of relatives and care workers from Skye and five other health board areas of Scotland.
In her opening statement, she told the public inquiry that families wanted to know why Covid was allowed to enter care homes and “spread like wildfire” during the pandemic.
She added: “As well as revealing the suffering of individuals and their families, we anticipate the evidence in these hearings will point to a systemic failure of the model for the delivery of care in Scotland, for its regulation and inspection.
“We anticipate the inquiry will hear that people were pressured to agree to do not resuscitate notices; that people were not resuscitated even though no such notice was in place.
“And that some home residents may have been neglected and left to starve and that families are not sure they were told the truth about their relative’s death.”
Ms McCall added that many families were thwarted in their efforts to find out what was going on with their relatives by some care homes, with many finding out about Covid outbreaks on Facebook or in the media.
Ten residents died during a Covid outbreak at Home Farm care home in Portree, Skye, in 2020.
The case is being considered by the Crown Office and is also subject to a damages claim by the families of former residents.
This claim alleges air freshener was used as a disinfectant.
HC One, which ran the care home at the time, previously said that throughout the pandemic it had “worked tirelessly” to protect residents and staff.
Alastair Gray, representing Central Scotland Care Homes – a group of 21 small to medium-sized independent care homes – said its members “worked under extreme strain in exceptional conditions” throughout the pandemic.
He said: “The issued guidance changed frequently and the messaging that came through was often contradictory.”
Mr Gray added there was an “unrealistic expectation of the pace of implementation” and that the “rapidly changing nature of advice meant there was worry among staff that they had been doing something wrong with previous guidance”.
The first two days of evidence sessions in the inquiry heard about the impact Covid had on other parts of the NHS and social care sector.
Elsewhere, Richard Pugh KC, representing Scotland’s territorial health boards, pointed out the NHS had not yet recovered from the pandemic and “on current estimates are unlikely to do so for some time”.
Mr Pugh put on record the health boards’ gratitude to all NHS workers and added: “The emotional and physical toll of those caring for people dying without their family around them was huge, and the media images of those working in high risk areas – dressed fully in PPE caring for such seriously ill patients – will live long in the collective memory.”
Women and children
The inquiry also heard that women and children were amongst the worst affected by Covid.
Andrew Webster KC, representing the Long Covid Kids Scotland campaign group, said: “Long Covid, the long-term illness caused by Covid, has blighted that prospect for too many.
“For too many, long Covid presents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to an engaged, fulfilling and productive life.”
Deirdre Domingo, of Scottish Women’s Rights Organisations, said the idea that the pandemic affected everyone equally should be “firmly dispelled”.
Ms Domingo said a key area of concern was the rise in domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape.
She said stay at home measures “overlooked that for many people, home was not the safest place to be”.
Ms Domingo added: “One of the consequences of the imposition of lockdown and isolation rules was a rise in domestic abuse and violence.”
A woman who lost her partner to Covid hit out at UK Government officials who held illegal lockdown parties, saying there was a “culture of contempt for the ordinary people” throughout the pandemic.
Jane Morrison of Scottish Covid Bereaved told the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry on Friday of the hardship she faced after her partner, Jacky Morrison-Hart, died in 2020.
Ms Morrison-Hart, 49, had been admitted to hospital for a separate illness but contracted Covid-19 while at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.
After battling the disease, she died a short time later in October 2020.
Speaking to the inquiry panel, Ms Morrison said there was “contempt” for normal citizens as UK Government officials illegally held lavish parties despite lockdown restrictions meant to prevent anyone from doing so.
She said the partygate revelations were the “ultimate insult”.
Ms Morrison said: “It seems it doesn’t matter if the plans in place are the best in the world or not.
“If the political comprehension of the coming storm is lacking, and it’s partly driven by pandering – this was directed for the UK side to the loudest MPs in government – irrespective of the science, rather than doing what’s in the best interest of the people, then more people died than would otherwise be the case.
“Many times during the pandemic there was a culture of contempt for the ordinary people. As I’ve said before, hubris does not stop a pandemic. I think this attitude has been confirmed by the investigation into the so-called partygate scandal.”
Ms Morrison has previously spoken of the restrictions on funerals during the pandemic.
On Friday she told how she had to wait seven months following the death of her wife to share a hug with a friend or family member.
She told the inquiry it was “wrong” for lockdown restrictions to prevent mourners from embracing at funerals.
She went on to speak of Covid-deniers and conspiracy theorists who she believed began to gain “more ground” and became more “vocal”.
However, she maintained: “I think the ultimate insult came when all of the so-called partygate stories came out and people became so angry.
“They felt they’d been treated with absolute contempt and they felt they’d been taken for a ride and treated as mugs.
“That produced so much anger that it’s difficult to find the words to adequately display all of those factors. All of those factors contribute in my view.”
The inquiry, taking place before Lord Brailsford in Edinburgh.