Ian Blackford MP claims Home Farm hearing has “paved the way” for NHS ownership

Ian Blackford MP has claimed that the latest ruling in the court hearing concerning the management of Home Farm nursing home on Skye has “paved the way” for the transfer of ownership to NHS Highland.

Mr Blackford’s comments came after Sheriff MacDonald’s ruling today (Wednesday 24th June) ordered answers to be lodged by operators HC-One in three weeks as to how they plan to robustly address the issues identified by the Care Inspectorate and manage the home safely.

Taking to social media following the hearing, Mr. Blackford posted a video on his Facebook page along with an accompanying statement:

“I am delighted that today’s court action paves the way for the transfer of ownership of Home Farm Care Home on Skye to NHS Highland.

“This is a good day for the Island. I would like to place on record my thanks NHS Highland and to the Scottish Government for the leadership, they have shown on this.

“What is important now is that HC-One, the current owners, must graciously step aside and that is done at a modest price as the care home is passed over into public hands.”

The Free Press contacted Mr. Blackford’s office for clarity on the comments, to which a spokesperson for the Skye MP said: “Negotiations are going ahead behind the scenes – HC-One are fairly happy to pass over ownership to NHS Highland.

“Having spoken to officials this morning, negotiations are ongoing.”

Furthermore, in a press release this sent out this afternoon echoing his earlier comments on social media, Mr. Blackford stated: “It now appears that talks are well underway to transfer full ownership over to the public health body.”

However, Sheriff MacDonald’s ruling which followed a joint motion submitted by the pursuer and the defence gave no indication at this stage in the proceedings as to a potential change of ownership of Home Farm.

Addressing the court, Sheriff MacDonald said: “In relation to the application, I make an order for answers to be lodged by the respondents within three weeks of today’s date (Wednesday 24th June), thereafter four weeks for adjustment of the pleadings, and then we will fix the date for a procedural hearing in approximately eight weeks’ time.

“At the procedural hearing I want to be addressed as to whether it is to proceed to an evidential hearing or not, what discussions have taken place between parties, what agreement has taken place, and how the home is being managed at that time, so we can move forward with this application.”

Ten residents who tested positive for Covid-19 have died since a major outbreak of the virus was confirmed at Home Farm in the final week of April.

In May, the Care Inspectorate applied to the court to cancel the registration of Home Farm over “serious and significant concerns”.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.

Speaking to the Free Press, Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant spoke about the welfare of the residents of the nursing home, which she described as “paramount”, adding that they “have been through enough”

“They need to be given a bit of security in their own home and whatever form that takes, the level of care has to be up to scratch,” said the Labour member.

Addressing Mr Blackford’s social media post, she added: “I wouldn’t be against NHS Highland taking it over the but they (the residents) need to remain in their own home and the levels of care that they get has to be improved because even after all of this time there are still issues and those issues need to be sorted

“These people are entitled to that especially given what they have been through. They have lost friends, in a care home you’re like a big family.

“They’ll all have been stuck in their rooms in the last three months while all this has been happening. What a terrifying existence. They need to come first.”

In response to Mr Blackford’s comments, John Kirk, managing director for HC-One Scotland said: “Our residents and our colleagues are at the heart of everything we do and we will always act in their best interests. 

“We are committed to continuing to work positively with our partners at NHS Highland, now and going forward, and to agreeing arrangements for the long term management of the home which make sure that our improvements are sustained, and built upon, and that the best possible service is provided at Home Farm.”

Commenting on today’s hearing, he went on to say: “We are pleased with today’s outcome following the significant progress which has been made at the home and recognised over recent weeks, including most recently by the Care Inspectorate following an inspection at the home on Monday.

“Our team at Home Farm has worked incredibly hard and we are thankful for their unwavering efforts and courage in responding to the virus and the personal sacrifices they have made to support the home.

“We are also grateful for the support of our partners at NHS Highland over this time.

He added: “Looking ahead, we will continue working closely with NHS Highland as we focus on building on what has been achieved and sustaining these improvements.

“Our residents are our number one priority and we are committed to making sure they receive the service they expect and deserve both now and for the long term.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NHS Highland said the local health authority’s “primary aim remains to see the best possible care for the residents of Home Farm care home.”

NHS Highland declined to comment on Mr Blackford’s remarks.

The Free Press has also contacted the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Jeane Freeman regarding Mr Blackford’s comments.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government strongly supports action to ensure all care homes provide a safe home for their residents and we are actively working to ensure we are doing everything possible to ensure that is the case.

“We welcome today’s decision to seek clarity on the immediate and longer-term future of Home Farm Care Home, the result of the action taken by the Care Inspectorate.

“The Scottish Government has put in place a range of actions to support residents and staff in care homes across Scotland as they deal with the impact and the challenges of Covid-19.

“This includes enhanced arrangements in each NHS board area to ensure direct and frequent engagement with each care home in their area covering effective infection prevention and control practice, testing, PPE, and staffing levels, providing direct NHS staff support where that is required.

This article was updated at 9.22 am on Thursday 25th June to include Scottish Government response.