Question marks over virus testing and tracing procedures in Skye

Questions surrounding testing and tracing for Covid-19 in Skye need answered in light of the outbreak of coronavirus at Home Farm care home, a Highland MSP has said.

Two residents have now died at the Portree care home which tests have shown to be a major hotspot for the infection.

As of last night a total of 29 out of the 34 residents, and 27 out of 52 staff had tested positive for Covid-19

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant suggested testing should have been made avilable earlier, following reports that a staff member at another Skye home had contracted coronavirus six weeks ago.

That case related to An Acarsaid in Broadford where, as the Free Press revealed yesterday, the worker themselves was left to inform colleagues and residents of the positive test, while follow-up screening wasn’t offered to others closely connected to the care home.

Mrs Grant said: “There are urgent questions that need to be answered, including about testing and tracing on the island, especially with reports that a case of Covid-19 was previously found in Broadford.

“Why weren’t families, residents and staff informed and tested then and when it comes to Home Farm, why did the virus spread so quickly to so many and why was there not earlier mass testing?

“In the meantime, my thoughts are with staff and residents on Skye, both at the care home and in the wider community.”

Mrs Grant said she contacted NHS Highland as early as March 26th after a constituent, who had relatives in a Highland care home, asked about the general protocol if residents were to be kept out of hospital and have appropriate treatment as well as palliative care where required.

Questions were asked about protective equipment, oxygen and other necessary supplies for care homes, plus the recruitment of additional staff for care homes and particularly more staff qualified to deal with the health complications of the virus.

“I raised this because of people’s fear that an incident like this could happen and I am so distressed to see such a serious situation on Skye,” she added.

“Scottish Labour has pressed for a proper contingency plan for Scotland’s crisis hit care homes and an expansion of testing to the level advised by the World Health Organisation,” she added.

“This Government cannot continue to let the most vulnerable in our society down.  We must test, trace and isolate to stop this virus spreading.”

Last Friday the Scottish Government promised enhanced outbreak investigation measures at all care homes where there are cases of Covid-19 – including making testing available to all care home residents and staff, whether or not they have symptoms.

A mobile testing unit, manned by the army, was set up in Broadford yesterday (Monday 4th May).

Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary and MSP for Ross, Skye and Badenoch, said she expected “full testing of care homes in Skye to be carried out”.

She added: “I firmly believe that the local community should be treated with respect and informed about the scale of the Covid outbreak.

“This affects friends, relatives and colleagues and so it is only right that people are given accurate and comprehensive information. I expect full testing of care homes in Skye to be carried out.

“I am unaware of the situation alluded to by the worker who had to inform colleagues by email.

“In light of the outbreak at Home Farm, I firmly believe that the local population deserve the full truth and public health agencies have been transparent about the situation.

“This should continue as we all try and limit transmission of the virus any further.”

Meanwhile, MP Ian Blackford urged people “not to drop our guard” against the virus.

He said: “The spread of the virus in the Highlands has been relatively limited until now, although we certainly have got to make sure that we continue to protect people here.

“A place like the Isle of Skye has a large percentage of elderly people.

“In my own district the over-65 are 35 per cent of the population. We must make sure that we continue to respect the lockdown and continue to do the right things.”

Mr Blackford repeated his previous call for holiday-home owners to stay away.

He added: “I know this is a beautiful area but my message to those will think about coming on holiday here and to second-home owners is please respect the challenges that we face.

“You’ll always be welcome in the Highlands when it’s right to welcome people back, but not now.

“Don’t think about coming over the course of the next few weeks and months while we battle this invisible killer.

“We’re nowhere near through this. We’ve got to make sure we continue to protect people.

“The idea of reversing lockdown and business as usual, that has to be a million miles away from what we are considering right now.”