Police are investigating the deaths of three women at a care home at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak on the Isle of Skye. This follows a move early this month to legally remove owners HC-One as care providers.
During the outbreak at Home Farm care home most residents, and half the staff have tested positive while ten people have died.
Home Farm is just one of a string of homes where coronavirus deaths are in double figures. Care home deaths account for half of all deaths from the virus in Scotland.
While some console themselves with the fact that the Scottish first minister is not Boris Johnson others are asking serious questions of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) performance.
Scottish health minister Jeanne Freeman has most recently come under fire for making “an error” about the number of hospital patients discharged into care homes.
She had stated, while congratulating herself for reducing delayed discharges, that most (untested) patients had been sent to their own homes.
But new figures reveal that 921 patients were sent into care homes in March. It was not until 21 April that mandatory testing of all new care home residents was introduced.
This raises the question of how an eagerness for clearing capacity in an underfunded NHS to deal with coronavirus has contributed to its spread—and more unnecessary deaths.
Nick Kempe, a former Head of Service for Older People in Glasgow, has spoken out about “the Covid-19 disaster in care homes”.
In a paper for pro independence think tank Common Weal, Kempe rails against “unnecessary” deaths, a “toothless regulator” and a healthcare system “stripped to the bone after 12 years of austerity”.
Kempe traces the roots of today’s “predictable crisis” in care homes to the early 1990s, privatisation policies and the big financial interests profiting from them.
This combined with the SNP’s failure to make the preparations detailed in Operation Cygnus, a 2016 NHS pandemic planning exercise that highlighted the necessity of beefing up the social care system in particular. Added to this are a series of complacent decisions early in the crisis.
Kempe writes, “Throughout March and April, the Scottish government appeared to be in denial about the scale of the crisis in care homes and continued to assign almost all responsibility for protecting residents to providers.”
While Nicola Sturgeon’s government said it was protecting the over-70s and shielding the vulnerable “its initial focus was not on preventing the spread of the virus but preparing the NHS”.
It then took the “fateful decision” to end contract tracing making it “inevitable that Covid-19 would be taken into care homes by asymptomatic carriers of the virus”.
Contrary to the World Health Organisation’s clarion call to “test, test, test” Sturgeon abandoned testing, with her former chief medical officer dismissing it as a “fallacy” as late as 1 April. And her government’s endorsement of discharging untested patients into care homes created a toxic mix.
It’s true mistakes can be made, and Sturgeon has invoked “hindsight” as political cover. But was it needed to know that NHS cuts meant it would be overwhelmed by a pandemic, or that introducing infected people into care homes could fatally spread the virus inside? Was hindsight necessary to know testing and protective equipment for care workers could prevent the spread the virus?
Although the SNP has belatedly offered “comprehensive advice” to protect older people in care homes it is two months too late for many grieving families. Kempe argues that a “neoliberal mindset” lies at the heart of Sturgeon’s “non interventionist stance” until very late in April.
That mindset created conditions for private care providers to fail to act on successive improvement notices, as Kempe details in the case of Home Farm, and explains why the SNP blocked moves to introduce national bargaining in care at Holyrood last week.
It’s why tax dodging financial speculators proliferate in a system that puts their interests before high standards of care—and why we must demand the nationalisation of all care homes as a matter of urgency.
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