A care home boss claimed the sector has been “betrayed” during the Scottish Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis, accusing ministers of presiding over “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities”.
Tony Banks, chairman and founder of the Balhousie Care Group, said care homes “may as well just have crossed our fingers” when hospital patients were being discharged from hospitals to their care without testing for coronavirus.
He claimed testing in care settings has been “promised” and this has “simply not been delivered”.
Mr Banks, whose company operates 26 care homes across Scotland with some 940 residents, said the decisions ministers had made meant hundreds of elderly people in homes had died “before their time”.
Writing in The Herald on Sunday newspaper, he said: “The strategy from the Scottish Government was clear from the start: to protect the NHS.
“And it was successful. But at the expense of this, hundreds of care home residents have passed away before their time.
“And as we navigate this unholy mess there are police investigations into Covid-19-related deaths, procurator fiscal referrals, and an announcement from the Scottish Government that ‘failing’ care homes face being taken under local authority control. I know I’m not alone in saying that private care home operators feel betrayed.”
He claimed Scotland had seen “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government” during the pandemic, adding that in Scotland “the rate of Covid-19-related care home deaths is one of the highest in Europe”.
Scottish Government figures disclosed more than 900 elderly patients were discharged from hospital into care homes in March – before a requirement for them to be tested for Covid-19 was introduced.
At the time a risk assessment was carried out before patients were sent to care homes, with Mr Banks saying: “We may as well just have crossed our fingers.”
He stated: “We asked for the patients to be tested for Covid-19 before we took them and were told no.
“In at least one of our care homes we can directly attribute the first positive cases of Covid-19 to a new admission from hospital.”
On the issue of testing he said this “was promised but has simply not been delivered”.
Mr Banks claimed: “It was 62 days between March 1 – the date of the first positive test in Scotland – and May 1 when the Scottish Government promised sample testing in homes without the virus, and testing of all residents and staff where there were cases.”
He said it was now “crucial” that there was “enough testing” for staff and residents in homes, and that this should be carried out continually, not just on a one-off basis.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended the decision to transfer elderly patients to care homes.
She also insisted the Scottish Government had “sought to take the best decisions we could based on the knowledge and information we had at the time”.
Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme on Sky News, the First Minister said: “The older people that were in hospital, the so-called delayed discharges, they didn’t need to be in hospital, they had no medical need to be in hospital, we were expecting, and in some cases saw, an influx of coronavirus patients into our hospitals.
“It would have been unthinkable simply to leave older patients where they were in hospital, that would also have put them at serious and significant risk.
“What we did was put in place a system of risk assessment for older people being discharged from hospitals and gave guidance to care home providers about the isolation and infection prevention and control procedures they should have been following.”