“They didn’t treat care homes as an emergency. Care homes should have been one of the first places tested.”
Linda Baillie was the manager at Home Farm nursing home for 25 years, and knows all about the pressures experienced by care staff.
In the wake of the lethal coronavirus outbreak, she believes that the government failed when it came to testing, and has urged that the entire care system needs to be reviewed.
She has also suggested that more staff from the NHS could have been ‘loaned out’ to the social care sector to help cope with virus outbreaks.
To date, 10 residents of Home Farm nursing home have died, while 27 residents and 29 staff members have tested positive for Covid-19 following an outbreak of coronavirus at the Skye home in late April.
Speaking to the Free Press, Mrs Baillie, who retired from the role 18 months ago, described the situation as “heartbreaking.”
“I started in the home in 1991 when it opened, became the manager in 1993 and left in December 2018. This is just heartbreaking,” she said.
“I really feel for the staff, some people are very supportive of them, but I think a lot of the staff feel as though they are being criticised for the care that they are giving.
“I think that’s unfair and hurtful because they are doing the best job they can in the circumstances.
“The public should be behind them all the way. Put yourself in their position; would you be prepared to go in there and do what they are doing?
“It’s a frightening place. They are putting their lives on the line every day they go in there.”
On Thursday 14th May the Care Inspectorate announced that it had submitted an application to the sheriff court after identifying “serious and significant concerns about the quality of care experienced by residents at Home Farm care home in Skye” during an inspection.
A civil case at Inverness Sheriff Court began today (Wednesday) following the application by the Care Inspectorate to cancel HC-One’s care home registration.
The case was adjourned until June, allowing HC-One to continue operating at Home Farm and to allow time for a further inspection.
Linda Baillie said of her former employers: “I don’t think HC-One is any worse than any other big company.
“Personally, when I was there, I can honestly say that I never, ever, had any problems with getting equipment or PPE.
“There will have been a big increase in the demand, perhaps they had a shortfall for a while but they would have had difficulty getting it because it was going straight to the NHS.
“People asked me were you pressurised into keeping your beds full.
“Well, it is a business, and you want to keep your beds full, but I can honestly say that if I felt we didn’t have enough staff to look after the residents we had, then I would say that we couldn’t meet the needs of extra residents and therefore we wouldn’t be taking them in until the staffing situation had improved.
“I never had pressure put on me to admit more people when we couldn’t cope.”
Last week in response to a question from BBC journalist Iain MacInnes, a spokesperson for HC-One said that one person had been employed and recruited to Home Farm who had come from England.
The spokesperson said the appointment was made before the pandemic and that the staff member in question has joined the home before the outbreak.
The Free Press has asked HC-One for details on how many staff had been drafted in from outwith Skye to work at Home Farm in the weeks leading up to the outbreak.
HC-One has yet to provide an answer.
Commenting on the potential origin of the outbreak, Ms Baillie added: “I know they are pointing the finger at people who have travelled in – agency workers – but it could be anyone.
“People say how did it get to this, but all you need is one case in a care home and all the PPE in the world is not going to prevent it from moving around. You have people wandering about, picking up other people’s things, touching handles – it’s a really difficult task.”
The former manager believed that care homes were not given the appropriate protection required for residents and identified the absence of testing for the staff at Home Farm as the key factor in the outbreak.
“They didn’t treat care homes as an emergency,” she said. “Care homes should have been one of the first places tested and isolated because they look after a highly vulnerable group of people.
“I know that the staff were not allowed to be tested – they didn’t meet the criteria as they are not NHS staff and weren’t tested initially. I do think that’s down to the Government.
“I am sure HC-One and other companies could have maybe done things better, but I honestly think that the testing has been the big, big issue.”
Addressing the question of whether a review of the care sector in Scotland was required, Ms Baille said: “I think the whole funding system needs to be reviewed, and it’s not going to be cheap whatever they decide to do.
“They have put it out to the private sector because for them (the government) to deliver a high standard of care it’s not cost-effective – that’s why care homes came into existence.
“I think there has to be some sort of comprise – they need to look at the way the system is funded.
“I think HC-One could have had more support; even if they had the loan of staff from the NHS initially to support the home.”
Turning to the challenges and the emotional toll that the tragedy at Home Farm has had on the residents, their families and staff, she said: “Sometimes if you have people with dementia they don’t really understand what you are doing and that makes it all the more difficult – such as having to dress up in PPE while seeing a resident who is already frightened. I know the girls are finding that very hard.”
“There have been people there for more than 10 years. It is not just the residents themselves you have a connection with you also create a bond with the families.
“I think it will be very difficult for the staff to say ‘no, you can’t come in’ that will add to the pressure they are already under.
“I think they are all doing a wonderful job. I know a lot of the girls who have had a couple of tests and were fairly sure that they would have been able to go back to work by now, but they are still positive.
“They really feel bad that they can’t go in there and help their colleagues because the residents are their family and they want to help. They all have to look after themselves and get back to work when they can.”