Highland MSPs attack Government over lack of Covid testing and “abysmal” care home guidance

Rhoda Grant MSP.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has criticised the Scottish health secretary for what she describes as “absolutely abysmal guidance” for care homes on end of life visits during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent to the health secretary last week, Ms. Grant asked Jeane Freeman to simplify the government’s guidelines for care homes on end of life visits.

The Labour member asked to see the guidelines following complaints from Skye constituent Mandie Harris who said she was refused the chance to be by her husband Colin’s side when he died of Covid-19 at the virus-hit Home Farm Care Home.

Ms Grant said: “Mrs Harris phoned me distraught on the day that he died. She said there had been a last-minute confusion which meant she was not able to be at his side when he passed on.

“She was standing outside his room, her daughter was with him, they asked permission from the care nurse to swap places but as I understand it in the time that it took for the nurse to seek permission for this Mr Harris passed away.

“I feel people shouldn’t be stopped for visiting their relatives on their death beds. A home with enough staff and PPE could have safely allowed this but the guidelines governing this area is totally unclear.”

She added: “If a staff member needs to refer to that at a point where the end of life is close they are not going to be able to understand it, or be able to make a decision, It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

In her letter, MS Grant stated: “My head was in pieces trying to figure it out. I was using searches and trying to find documents. Imagine if you were working in a care home and trying to do 100 things and read all this confusing guidance?”

She finished by saying: “Your guidance is absolutely abysmal, and I would ask that you do better.”

On Wednesday Sheriff MacDonald ruled that HC-One’s registration to operate the Home Farm nursing home in Skye can continue for a further two weeks

It marked the second date of the hearing which was sparked by “serious and significant concerns” identified by the Care Inspectorate following an inspection in May.

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.

The interim order hearing will continue on 24th June and the procedural hearing, which was due to take place on 17th June, will also now be heard on the 24th June.

Care home staff are on the front line and deserved “to be tested routinely.”

Edward Mountain MSP. Photo credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

Ms Grant’s fellow Highlands and Islands MSP, Edward Mountain has also spoken out this week against the Scottish Government in calling for Covid-19 testing to made available to a greater number of care home staff.

This call was made after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed only a fifth of care home staff had been routinely tested across the country.

In May, health secretary Jeane Freeman said that every care home worker would be routinely tested.

However, as of the 7th June only 258 staff had been tested in the Highland region.

Paul Hawkins, Chief Executive of NHS Highland, confirmed to Mr. Mountain in a letter that “within NHS Highland, during the period 25 May 2020 to 31 May 2020 the testing capacity was 1250 and the number result reported 571

Mr Mountain said: “The Scottish Government made a pledge three weeks ago that all care home staff would be routinely tested.

“So for only 258 staff across the Highland region to have been tested in the weeks since this pledge does nothing to allay the concerns of care home staff and residents.

“It is clear that NHS Highland has the extra capacity to test more care home staff, so why isn’t this happening?

“It is now time for the Scottish Government to set a firm deadline as to when all care home staff will be tested in NHS Highland.

“Our care home staff are on the frontline fighting against this virus and the least they deserve is to be tested routinely.”

The Free Press contacted the Scottish Government for comment on both these matters.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government has made clear we will publish data on the progress being made. As has been set out, the first set of figures from Public Health Scotland will underestimate the number of tests carried out as they do not yet include tests done by routes other than NHS labs.

“In the coming days we will work with NHS boards to enhance this publication for the next set of data on 17th June including further information on staff and residents tested in non-Covid homes in the previous week.

“NHS Highland has informed the health secretary that a plan is now in place to test all care home staff weekly from 8th June. Their allocation from the UK social care testing portal has since been increased so our expectation is that there are no barriers to all staff being tested this week and weekly going forward.”

This article was updated at 9pm on Thursday 11th June.