Just under a month has passed since an outbreak of coronavirus took hold at Home Farm nursing home on Skye.
Since then 10 residents have died at the Portree home which offers nursing care for those living with dementia.
More than 60 people – residents and staff – have tested positive for Covid-19.
While the impact of the virus has been felt far and wide as family members and friends throughout the island community and beyond try to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
Today, we report on serious allegations made by a Home Farm employee to the West Highland Free Press.
The employee, who wished to remain anonymous, levelled significant accusations at the management of Home Farm and said they were “devasted and angry” at the tragic events which have unfolded at the nursing home.
They allege that health and safety protocols were not adhered to by management which placed residents and staff at risk of contracted the deadly virus.
The operators of Home Farm, HC-One have rebutted one of the two allegations made, while they say they were not aware of the second but were clear that all government-issued guidance around self-isolation for symptoms must be followed.
The allegations made include claims that a member of staff was permitted by management to carry out a medication round among residents without wearing a face mask despite having displayed symptoms the day before.
And that a member of staff who clocked a temperature of 38C, was ordered to work by the management for several hours in which time they provided one-on-one care with residents.
The employee who has made these claims wishes to remain anonymous due to fears for their job.
On March 23rd, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a UK-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
However, a few days after the lockdown had come info effect staff at home farm were raising concerns with HC-One about the operator’s plans to bring a nurse up from Kent to work in Skye.
The employee who contacted the Free Press said that they had felt at the time that the nurse’s arrival would put “the people of Skye as well as the residents in big jeopardy”.
A letter was sent to HC-One’s CEO, however, the manager of Home Farm informed the staff that the nurse was self-isolating in Kent prior to starting work.
The source told the Free Press: “We all freely raised our concerns that she should self-isolate as she was travelling up by public transport.
“This was dismissed by higher management and I was told that this was not going to happen.”
On Thursday 30th April, the Free Press reported that cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed at Home Farm.
Just three days earlier, on Monday 27th April, the employee claims that a nurse came in for her shift at Home Farm despite having left work sick the previous day and having displayed symptoms of Covid-19.
It is alleged that the nurse carried out her duties without a mask while nothing was done by the manager to prevent this from happening.
The employee said: “I was amazed, not only to see her in work but without a mask. We all wore masks, the manager was there.
“I raised concerns, he did nothing. I raised concerns again but it was only after at our meeting at 11.00 am that she was sent home when I mentioned it again with her and the manager present. I told my manager I would have escalated it otherwise.”
They added: “She was doing the medication round and around staff too. The manager did not implement any rules for her to wear a mask and that was company policy at the time.
“She subsequently tested positive, as did the manager.”
In response, a spokesperson for HC-One told the Free Press: “In this instance when this staff member first felt unwell, they left the home and did not return the next day.
“They did not attend the home until they had fully recovered and had undertaken the necessary isolation period.
The employee also claims that on Tuesday 28th April another member of staff worked for several hours due to pressure from the manager despite displaying coronavirus symptoms.
They said: “The day before the Covid-19 outbreak was confirmed, a member of the night staff arrived. Their temperature was tested and it was 38 degrees. I said: ‘you need to go home.’
“However, I was overruled by the manager, who when phoned about the temperature, said: ‘no, she has to stay on.’
The worker was only allowed to leave after their temperature had increased further. During that time they provided one to one care with the residents.
The employee told the Free Press: “At midnight that night the temperature of the staff member was 39 degrees, at that point the manager came in to replace her.
“However, she had still completed four hours of the shift.”
The employee said that their colleague stayed on as they were scared that they would lose their job after being asked by her manager to work.
The HC-One spokesperson said: “We are not aware of this situation and we are clear that all current government-issued guidance around self-isolation for symptoms must be followed.”
They added: “Temperature checks were not required, and symptomatic colleagues were isolated in line with relevant guidance at the time.”
The spokesperson said: “We continue to work in partnership with NHS Highland at Home Farm to make necessary improvements. residents and colleagues are also starting to feel better and are on the way to recovering from coronavirus.
“We continue to progress with our robust action plan and remain wholly focused on delivering the best possible care, both now and for the long term.”
Addressing the provision of personal protective equipment the employee told the Free Press that were no issues there and added that HC-One was “supportive”.
They said: “HC-One had protocols in place, however, the area manager and the manager had ideas of their own.”
The employee went on to say that they were “devasted and angry” by what had happened at Home Farm and described the manager as “not fit for purpose” adding that the area director was “definitely not fit”
“I am a wreck,” they added, “especially as the residents whom I admire and adore are dying. Residents I know and loved as my own family.”
Skye Councillor John Gordon’s father John Angus passed away in Home Farm nursing home on 5th May having tested positive for Covid-19 on 1st May.
Commenting on the allegations, Councillor Gordon said: “Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak at Home Farm, we have asked for honesty and transparency, it’s needed more than ever going forward, the most vulnerable people have been failed and not protected which is a terrible indictment on society,
“It’s emerging that more and more front line staff were let down by senior managers/directors and the government which they need to be accountable for.
“The need for answers is so important and an investigation as to exactly what went so wrong, we applaud and value front line staff, their stories, and experiences must be heard, I hope they are being supported, valued and cared for during this time. “
Skye MSP Kate Forbes told the Free Press: “These are extremely serious allegations, and indicate why the Care Inspectorate took such robust action at Home Farm.
“There is no doubt that both NHS Highland and the Care Inspectorate have had serious concerns about the standard of care at Home Farm, and that is why NHS Highland is effectively running the care home and why the Care Inspectorate took very swift action against the care home provider.
“Some relatives and employees had previously raised concerns with me in confidence, and I had asked HC-One to address these whilst protecting the individuals’ anonymity.
She added: “At the moment, as the legal case progresses in the Sheriff Court, my priority is to ensure the highest standard of care for residents at Home Farm.
“That is what NHS Highland are seeking to provide, as they effectively manage the home and providing nursing and social care.
“There is significant testing capacity available on Skye, and Test, Trace and Isolate has been used in Skye to limit the transmission of the virus beyond Home Farm.”
On the matter of testing, the spokesperson for HC-One said: “It is important to recognise that Home Farm was one of the first care homes where everyone was tested, and where for the first time it was clear that many residents and colleagues who were asymptomatic and otherwise felt well, were confirmed to have Covid-19.
“This underlines how difficult it is to control a truly invisible virus, and the value and importance of widespread, regular testing which was not routinely available in the early part of the UK pandemic.”