Home Farm coronavirus outbreak: staffing and infection-control concerns raised in parliament

Health secretary Jeane Freeman

Staffing and infection-control concerns at the Skye care home at the centre of a major coronavirus outbreak were raised in the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Tuesday).

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant brought up the claims – made to her by the wife of a resident of Home Farm in Portree – with Health Minister Jeane Freeman.

Mrs Grant said the relative had told her that “weeks ago” senior management of care home operators HC-One were called to address a lack of PPE for staff.

The woman said she also had worries about HC-One moving its own staff between its care homes, and had questioned whether seven-day self-isolation rules were being observed after the home went into lockdown on 12th March.

Four residents of Home Farm, who tested positive for Covid-19, have now died.

In total 57 residents and staff have contracted the virus.

In response to Mrs Grant’s concerns about a lack of clear protocol for care homes, health secretary Jeane Freeman said the government were now taking “direct intervention” after seeing independent care home operators not following guidance.

Ms Freeman said: “The guidance to care homes is clear and that guidance is that residents should be looked after in their own rooms, there should be no communal socialising or meal times, that visits should be stopped and there should be no transfer of staff from one care home to another because all of this is about breaking the transmission route. That I think is a protocol of type …”

She added: “I would like to point out, however, that many of the issues that members are raising are issues where private care home providers – where the majority of the outbreaks are – have not, in some instances, appeared to follow the guidance that we require them to follow and that is why as government we are now taking a more direct intervention route in those cases.”

The woman’s husband’s health has deteriorated in the last few days since being diagnosed with Covid-19 in Home Farm.

The relative said: “The sheer volume of this explosion at Home Farm has knocked everybody for six. Hopefully my husband is going to pull through this. But that doesn’t change my stance that somebody is responsible for letting that virus into the home.

“I am not condemning the care home staff in any way though because I don’t believe they are to blame. They have provided wonderful care to my husband over the years.”

Rhoda Grant said: “This is terrible. It’s shocking. This woman, who until lockdown was visiting her husband six days a week, has managed to see him yesterday on webcam for the first time in a week and the sight of him lying in bed desperately ill miles away from her is something no-one should ever have to see.

“We need to find out why the virus has spread so quickly to so many in this care home and why earlier mass testing was not carried out. There are urgent questions that need to be answered.”

Yesteday afternoon, in an interview with BBC Scotland, HC-one’s chief executive chairmen Sir David Behan said that the firm had brought in staff from outside the island – from other homes that had been virus free – because it had trouble recruiting locally.

An inspection at Home Farm in January identified staffing problems and found infection control requirements hadn’t been met.