Care homes must not be “lined up as a scapegoat” in the forthcoming national inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic, a group representing the sector has warned.
Independent Care Homes Scotland (ICHS), representing 13 operators and 10,000 staff across 155 homes, have said it is vital the sector is given a “meaningful and prominent voice” in the inquiry.
They say the decision by Government to “empty hospital patients into care homes without any testing” early in the pandemic must be addressed in the probe.
ICHS founding member and Renaissance Care chairman, Robert Kilgour, said: “Given that the Scottish care sector was one of those hardest hit by the pandemic, it would counterproductive if the voices of patients, staff and management were restricted to only a few participants.
“It is of utmost importance that the care sector is not lined up as a scapegoat for things that went wrong during the Covid outbreak in Scotland.
“It is imperative that the inquiry takes substantial evidence from those on the front line.
“Only then will we be able to ensure it fulfils its remit of establishing any lessons to be learned from what has happened, for the sake of future and current residents, as well as those who have made their careers in the sector.”
ICHS has said it is committed to playing a “full and constructive part” in what is expected to be the largest inquiry of its kind ever seen in Scotland, and have called on other independent care home operators to join them.
Mr Kilgour said residents, their families and care home workers had “paid a terrible price” during the pandemic, “with enormous numbers of deaths amidst the most sustained, high-pressure environment our sector has ever seen”.
He added: “It is absolutely imperative that the direct experiences of those in the care sector are given a meaningful and prominent voice within the inquiry, and given that 75% of elderly care homes in Scotland are operated by independent providers, it is vital that we are at the core of these conversations.
“The areas we must see addressed include Government decisions to empty hospital patients into care homes without any testing in the early days of the pandemic, which had devastating consequences, and the failure to quickly heed industry calls for mandatory, weekly testing of staff.”
The group has made a formal submission outlining key areas the it believes the inquiry should cover “based on direct experience on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Among the issues outlined in the submission for the terms of reference in the inquiry are “the decision to discharge untested hospital patients into care homes, the lack of PPE, testing and equipment, the frequently varying advice, involvement of NHS and employment laws and procedures”.
Announcing the establishment of an inquiry by the end of this year, the Scottish Government said it was “fundamental” that stakeholder views were heard.
The group said it has retained one of Scotland‘s leading advocates, Duncan Hamilton QC, as well as David McKie of legal firm Levy & MacRae to assist with preparation of the submission and evidence for the inquiry.