The coronavirus-stricken Home Farm nursing home on Skye could stay in the hands of private operators HC-One if a comprehensive plan can eliminate fears over “managerial deficiencies” a Sheriff has ruled.
Following a joint motion submitted by the pursuer and the defence during today’s virtual hearing at Inverness Sheriff Court, Sheriff MacDonald ordered answers to be lodged by HC-One in three weeks as to how they plan to robustly address the issues identified by the care inspectorate and manage the home safely.
Sheriff MacDonald also agreed to drop the interim suspension application submitted in May by the Care Inspectorate to cancel HC-One’s registration.
Addressing the court, Sheriff MacDonald said: “In relation to the application, I make an order for answers to be lodged by the respondents within three weeks of today’s date (Wednesday 24th June), thereafter four weeks for adjustment of the pleadings, and then we will fix the date for a procedural hearing in approximately eight weeks time.”
“At the procedural hearing I want to be addressed as to whether is to proceed to an evidential hearing or not, what discussions have taken place between parties, what agreement has taken place, and how the home is being managed at that time, so we can move forward with this application.
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.
In May, the Care Inspectorate applied to the court to cancel the registration of Home Farm over “serious and significant concerns”.
Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, David Logan QC said: “You’ll be aware that there has been development going on in the background of this case, in particular in the last 48 hours, there has been a further inspection carried out at the home, and although that inspection did raise some issues in relation to the usage of PPE and indeed the storage of some medicines, it is not maintained by the petitioners, that the people are seriously at risk in terms of their health and section 65-2.
Mr. Logan QC went on to ask that the petition to remove HC-One’s registration was drop so as to allow the operators three weeks to provide a comprehensive business plan explaining how the managerial deficiencies have been addressed.
“What we are really looking for is who is going to be managing the home going forward.
He added: “This would allow us to consider the proposals – if there are proposals by the respondent – as to how they would manage the home are satisfactory or not.
“Even if they are that would be the end of the matter and the issue would be resolved.”
“If it was not then there would be the possibility of a hearing being required to which the petitioners could contend still cause a risk under section 65 (2) – that’s quite a high test but it’s a test that would have to be meet.”
He then sought approval from the Sheriff that thereafter any proposals put forward by HC-One would be considered over a four-week period to determine whether a hearing would be required or whether that matter would be resolved.
Malcolm Gunnyeon QC, speaking for the defence, said: “I don’t have any difficulty with what my learned friend has proposed in relation to further procedure…”
Mr. Gunnyeon, went on to add with respect to an earlier comment from Mr Logan QC, that he did not accept that NHS Highland are currently “running the home” and contended that it was a partnership that HC-One were “very much part of.”
A spokesperson for NHS Highland said: “NHS Highland notes the decision made at the Inverness Sheriff Court this morning in relation to Home Farm care home in Portree.
“NHS Highland’s primary aim remains to see the best possible care for the residents of Home Farm care home.
“We are pleased to see the improvements in the standard of care within the home over recent weeks and this has now been formally recognised.
“NHS Highland will continue to work together with HC-One and the Care Inspectorate to ensure that the recent improved standards of care are maintained.
Kate Forbes MSP said: “The latest development regarding Home Farm demonstrates how seriously the Care Inspectorate is taking the standards of care and also how instrumental NHS Highland’s involvement has been to date.
“The residents continue to get the highest possible care, and NHS Highland continues to play a leadership and management role at Home Farm.
“I am confident that NHS Highland will not walk away and are committed to sustaining high levels of care at Home Farm over the long term.”
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This only continues the uncertainty for the people living there and for their relatives and these people have already been through enough.”
Ms Grant added that it was encouraging to know care levels have improved since the drafting in of NHS Highland staff to the Portree facility, but she said it was “depressing to hear that a further inspection carried out at the home within the last 48 hours raised some issues in relation to the use of PPE and the storage of medicines”.
She said it was “unbelievable that fundamental aspects of care are still slipping”.
She went on to say: “While waiting for the outcome of this case I have been asking questions in Parliament, and lodging written questions with the Scottish Government, the Care Inspectorate and NHS Highland.
“I have this week challenged the health secretary to explain why this virus rampaged through Home Farm Care Home and nowhere else in the community. I want to know whether test and trace has uncovered any links and I am awaiting answers.”
She added: “The Scottish Government has been pointing the finger at the private care home sector for failing to adhere to its guidelines but my repeated demands to see the Scottish Government’s protocol for how care homes can manage this pandemic has revealed it has yet to be drawn up. This government has been caught short since the beginning and no one is going to forget that.”
Meanwhile, Ian Blackford MP believed that the court action “paves the way for the transfer of ownership of Home Farm Care Home on Skye to NHS Highland.”
Mr. Blackford went on to say: “This is a good day for the Island. I would like to place on record my thanks NHS Highland and to the Scottish Government for the leadership, they have shown on this.
“What is important now is that HC-One, the current owners, must graciously step aside and that is done at a modest price as the care home is passed over into public hands.