Home Farm families begin legal action

Families who lost loved ones in the Covid-19 outbreak at Home Farm nursing home on Skye are to begin legal proceedings. 

Highland Councillor John Gordon, who lost his father at the home in May, is uniting with other bereaved families to address the failings at the home and is calling for others across Scotland to share their concerns about how other care homes have responded to the crisis.

Councillor Gordon said: “The situation at Home Farm was appalling but I do not think it is an isolated case.

“I believe that many other care homes in Scotland have also failed to safeguard vulnerable residents like my father at a time when they most needed protection. 

“I hope that other families in similar circumstances will contact me so that lessons can be learned before more lives are lost.”

Ten residents died at Home Farm Care Home during the outbreak. 30 people living in the home tested positive for Covid-19 and 29 staff tested positive.

The operator HC-One is now in the process of selling the home to NHS Highland.

The Cabinet Secretary Jeane Freeman announced last week that NHS Highland had secured the purchase with £900,000 of additional funding from the Scottish Government, and added that the transfer of the home to NHS Highland would involve the transfer of the staff into the employment of the NHS with improved terms and conditions and job security.

Peter Watson of PBW Law, who is acting on behalf of the families, said: “The families have already suffered bereavement in the most tragic circumstances. Compounding their loss is the fear that their loved ones could have been protected had the proper procedures been in place. 

“I am writing to the Lord Advocate to ask if a fatal accident inquiry is to be held. I will also ask the Scottish government, who have indicated that there will be an inquiry, whether this will be a public inquiry, which would enable a proper scrutiny of the regulation of care homes.”

John Angus Gordon died in early May.

PBW Law is representing Councillor John Gordon, Mrs Mary Maccaskill (John’s sister) and Ms Norma Morrison, who lost her mother Margaret Morrison.

Between May 4th and August 20th, the Care Inspectorate carried out five inspection visits of the home where 10 residents died following an outbreak of Coronavirus in late April.

Three separate reports were published by the Care Inspectorate last Thursday (3rd September).

The findings detail the “unsatisfactory” levels of care delivered at the home – which included residents lying in faeces and urine, and one person being left at risk of choking due to the texture of their meal.

In addition to the myriad of fallings highlighted in the delivery of appropriate care, the report also notes incredible instances of obstinance from HC-One management and staff when it came to suppressing the virus.

It stated that initial offers from NHS Highland to assist with cleaning the care home and disinfecting it with a recommended cleaning product were refused, placing people at unnecessary risk. 

And reported that “three redeployed HC-One staff chose not to have a COVID-19 test despite being requested to do so by public health. This decision unnecessarily increased the risk of the infection spreading.”

Adding: “This concern was escalated to a senior HC-One manager and testing took place thereafter.”

The Care Inspectorate team found that residents had lost weight during the lockdown and that medication was not administered safely or in a timely manner. Staffing levels were inadequate on numerous occasions and some staff were working for 60 hours a week.

Staff did not consistently use PPE in an effective manner in order to protect themselves and others from the risk of infection. The overall cleanliness of the home gave rise to serious concerns and infection control measures were lacking.

The Care Inspectorate subsequently applied for cancellation of the care service’s registration under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, however this application was subsequently withdrawn.  

PBW Law is representing Councillor John Gordon, Mrs Mary Maccaskill (John’s sister) and Ms Norma Morrison, who lost her mother Margaret Morrison.

Commenting to the Free Press this afternoon, Mr Watson said: “There are many angles to this – there are obviously initial claims that the family members can have under the Damages of Scotland Act for loved ones that have died in circumstances where fault is attributed to a third party – and that would initially be HC-One.

“We have, in fact, written to them (HC-One) asking whether they are dealing with claims directly or whether they have appointed insurers to deal with it – because the revelations in the report that came out were fairly horrific.”

He added: “There are questions for the regulatory authorities – whilst it is noted that they did bring matters to the attention of those who operated the home – the question will be what was the follow-up? And was what they did enough?

“There are also bigger political questions, of course, about how we provide for care home accommodation in Scotland and whether relying essentially on private sector care home – funded in the way that they are – is, by design, going to produce something that is always inadequate…”

The firm Leigh Day, which has offices in London and Manchester are also representing families who lost loved ones following the coronavirus outbreak at Home Farm.

The BBC Highlands and Islands news team reported this afternoon that the firm are investigating potential legal action on behalf of families in both Scotland and England.

Among those represented is Mandie Harris.

Mrs Harris’ husband Colin Harris became the sixth resident of the Home Farm nursing home to die, after having tested positive for Covid-19.

He was 66 and had been living in the home for the past four years, receiving care for Parkinson’s and early-onset dementia.

Speaking to the Free Press this week, Mrs Harris rebuked the Scottish Government for its level of attention towards those affected describing it as like “a noose around their necks.”