Editorial: The unanswered questions on Home Farm

WHFP Editorial 14.5.20

Last Wednesday, 6th May, the Free Press submitted ten questions to HC-One, the operators of the Home Farm Nursing Home in Portree, in light of the major outbreak of coronavirus which had erupted there and was beginning to claim lives.

More than a week later, despite repeated urging, we are still waiting for replies to those questions.

Last Wednesday was the day on which 66-year-old Colin Harris became the home’s sixth resident to die, having earlier tested positive for Covid-19.

A total of 56 staff and residents at the nursing home have tested positive for the virus, amid growing anger at how the infection came to spread in so vulnerable an environment.

The staff at the home have won praise from those who’ve seen them at closest quarters – the relatives of residents themselves.

But these same family members have also raised suspicions that the workers on the front line have been let down from above, by the executives of what is the biggest private care home operator in the United Kingdom.

Friends and relatives of the afflicted and the deceased fear that a failure by HC-One to address previous concerns surrounding staffing and infection control procedures may have had lethal consequences.

It is on these issues that HC-One needs to respond.

The questions which we sent to HC-One last week, and which they have so far refused to answer, are as follows:

  • 1.            Can you outline the steps HC-One are taking to care and support residents of home farm, the staff and their families?
  • 2.            Who has taken the lead on this support now that both the Care Inspectorate and the NHS have become involved?
  • 3.            Are relatives able to have any contact with their loved ones inside the home – such as those in the final stages of life?
  • 4.            After Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman spoke about a need for “direct government action”, would you accept her suggestion that independent care homes had specific problems observing government guidance?
  • 5.            Could the government themselves have done more to support the social care sector?
  • 6.            What are the reasons for the continued problems in recruiting staff for Home Farm?
  • 7.            To what extent does Home Farm depend on staff from outside – either agency workers or staff from other care homes – to ensure the home is adequately staffed?
  • 8.            Between the period that lockdown at Home Farm began (12th March) and the first confirmed Covid-19 case (Monday 27th April) were any staff from outside – either agency or from other homes – brought in to work at Home Farm?
  • 9.            If they were, what steps were taken to ensure they were virus free?
  • 10.          What steps were taken to address the requirements on infection control – as highlighted by the January care inspectorate report – in light of the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic throughout February and early March?

Answers are also required from the Scottish Government concerning the guidance they have issued to care homes, where over 40 per cent of Scotland’s coronavirus-related deaths have occurred.

Questions have begun to be aired in parliament, and should face further scrutiny as a Holyrood Covid-19 committee gathers evidence this month.

In the Scottish parliament last Tuesday Jeane Freeman responded to a question from Highland MSP Rhoda Grant by stating that there should be “no transfer of staff from one care home to another because all of this is about breaking the transmission route”.

Yet the clinical guidance from the Government, which was updated on Friday, rang a slightly different tone.

It noted: “Staff who work across a number of locations including community nurses and temporary eg ‘bank’/agency staff can leave care homes particularly vulnerable to transmission of Covid-19.

“Where temporary staff need to be used, steps should be taken to restrict the movement of staff between care homes and strict compliance with Infection, Protection and Control measures to reduce infection spread is essential.”

That updated guidance was then removed from the Scottish Government’s website, following concerns over rules on transferring into care homes hospital patients who may not have been tested for Covid-19.

At best, that is inconsistent. It could be worse than that. It could be fatally incompetent.

A community such as Skye, which has shown extraordinary resolve in its response to the virus in its midst, deserves nothing less than the full and unvarnished truth, from both the senior management of HC-One and from the Scottish Government.

The former could start to answer difficult questions.

The latter could begin to display some of the efficiency and integrity of which it so often boasts.