Scotland’s care sector is being treated unfairly by a review which involves police gathering information on hundreds of coronavirus-related care home deaths, the head of an industry body has claimed.
Scottish Care chief executive Donald Macaskill said the process is “distressing” for care home staff and questioned why Covid-19 linked deaths in NHS settings, outside coronavirus wards, are not subject to similar investigations.
In May, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said all confirmed or suspected coronavirus deaths in care homes should be reported to the Crown Office, as well as deaths of people who may have contracted the virus at work.
The Crown Office set up the Covid Deaths Investigation Team to oversee this and is working with Police Scotland and others on what has been named Operation Koper.
Police will be required to gather information on all Covid-19 linked deaths in care homes, which totalled 1,978 up to October 11 according to the National Records of Scotland’s latest monthly statistics.
The latest Crown Office figures, from September, show they had received 309 Covid-19 linked death reports, of which 256 were in care homes.
Mr Macaskill said police are asking care home workers a list of 37 questions.
He said: “The process of gathering the information is what is particularly distressing.
“This is a significant amount of information which each care home has to communicate and it has to be done in a relatively limited period of time which in itself is a burden to staff who are actively fighting the pandemic at this minute.”
Workers have said it is having an emotional impact on them, he said, as often they had close relationships residents who died.
“We recognise that is absolutely right for families to be assured that all precautions were taken and their loved ones were cared for in the manner that they should have been but we would call for similar treatment in deaths outside of care homes,” he said.
“It’s unequal treatment of the care sector at a time when staff are fighting the pandemic and for reasons that have not been fully explained.”
The Lord Advocate told the Scottish Parliament on May 13 care home and worker deaths had been chosen as he concluded they had given rise to “public anxiety”.
A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has established a dedicated team to deal with reports of Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths in care homes or where the deceased may have contracted the virus in the course of their employment.
“The team will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”
Assistant Chief Constable Judi Heaton, Police Scotland lead for major crime and public protection, said: “People are understandably concerned about deaths occurring in care homes which are related to coronavirus.
“We are fully supportive of the COPFS review and indeed any requirement that may subsequently be placed on us to carry out a full investigation.
“COPFS requests to Police Scotland will be directed to a central point, all inquiries will be logged and managed by the unit, and our action and response will be centrally co-ordinated.
“The unit will be responsible for reporting back to the COPFS coronavirus (Covid-19) death investigation team (CDIT).
“The decision on whether further inquiry will need to be undertaken is a matter for the CDIT.
“We will continue to work with COPFS and other partner agencies to maximise public safety, to support and protect the vulnerable in our communities and to support the work of colleagues in the health and care professions.”