Deaths at Skye care home hit by virus outbreak as contact tracing begins

Coronavirus contact tracing has been launched on the isle of Skye after two deaths in a major outbreak of the disease in a care home.

A total of 30 residents at Home Farm in Portree were confirmed on Monday as having contracted Covid-19, including those who died, while 27 members of staff have also tested positive.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said that all residents at the home had been isolated and medical assessments were underway by the local GP and advanced nurse practioner.

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At the government’s daily coronavirus briefing she said: “Assessments have been carried out, a mixed discipline support team is in place and the care inspectorate will undertake their first visit to that care home today. The mobile testing unit is in place and contact tracing is in hand.”

Home Farm care home has been hit by 56 casesHome Farm care home has been hit by 56 cases
Home Farm care home has been hit by 56 cases

In a joint statement, NHS Highland and Highland Council said there was no evidence the virus had spread further into the community but did not release details on the number of cases.

Ms Freeman said care homes in both the public and private sector had been given “very clear advice about how to break the transmission of the virus and prevent its entry into care homes.”

She added: “We’ve continued to provide clinical support through primary care teams and public health directors. We have acted to intervene and top up the supply of PPE where the supply chain was not robust enough and we continue to do that. We have acted to ensure that care home staff have the PPE but also have training in infection prevention and control.”

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Jeane Freeman has said contact tracing is being carried out on Skye.Jeane Freeman has said contact tracing is being carried out on Skye.
Jeane Freeman has said contact tracing is being carried out on Skye.

SNP MP Ian Blackford, who lives on Skye said the outbreak was “shocking and worrying”. He said there were no ventilators on the island and the nearest was 112 miles away in Inverness.

“Enhanced case monitoring has been put in place, public health guidance has been reinforced and steps have been taken to ensure the family members of those affected are fully supported,” he said. “As well as putting in place testing for all residents and staff members, the availability of testing at the NHS hospital in Portree will be complemented by a mobile testing unit being established at Broadford from today, run by the 3 Scots Battalion of the Army.

“Critically, contact tracing is going to be an important part of our capability in dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19, this will be a vital part of NHS Highland's response.”

Every member of staff at Home Farm who has tested positive has been asked to self-isolate for seven days and their families to self-isolate for 14 days.

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NHS Highland and Highland Council said Home Farm had put in place extra staffing, and the health board had made available a support team. Dr Ken Oates, director of public health at NHS Highland, said: “There is no evidence at this stage that Covid-19 infection has spread further into the community. The measures that have been put in place will support us in ensuring, as best as we can, that the outbreak is contained as possible.”

According to Ms Freeman the social care sector is set to benefit from the government’s call for retired staff to return to work to help tackle coronavirus. She said just under 3000 of those who responsed have previous experience of social care and after employment checks 234 people were ready to be deployed into care homes.

She added: We have another 305 ready to be deployed when they’re told they’re needed and we’ve moved some NHS staff into the area too. We’ve increased testing for care home staff and residents, and we’re undertaking, from this week, enhanced outbreak investigations in care homes where all residents and staff are offered testing whether symptomatic or not.

“Where there’s been a confirmed case in a chain with the same provider, we are testing to ensure there’s not staff transfer from one home to another, and sample testing in care homes where there have been no cases so we can ensure adequate surveillance in those care homes.”

Asked if private care homes were not following government advice, Nicola Sturgeon said: “We know this virus is particularly tough for older people when they get it. We know the virus spreads more quickly and aggressively in institutional settings. It’s a hard reality that regardless of what we do there will be an extent to which this virus is difficult to stop in those settings.

It’s why the guidance we have given to care homes must be implemented rigorously. We continue to work with the care home sector to make sure that’s the case.”

Scottish Labour MP Rhoda Grant said a constituent had raised concerns on March 26 about impact of coronavirus on the Skye care home and Ms Sturgeon said she would “look into it”.

“We have taken the care home situation seriously from the outset. The guidance sent to care homes from March 13 gave advice on isolation and social distancing and at every step of the way we’ve been absolutely rigorous at looking at what we need to do to minimise the infection in care homes,” she said. “It involves government, health boards and care home providers working together.

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“All countries are finding this virus is a part challenge in care homes and there’s something in the nature of this virus that’s providing that challenge. It’s important to udnerstand the nature and scale of the challenge the virus presents in that kind of setting.”

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