Scotland's chief nursing officer warns of 'distress' of separating care home residents with dementia from 'reminders of their previous lives'

Scotland’s chief nursing officer said care home staff face an “incredibly difficult” choice in removing residents with dementia from their rooms in order to minimise the spread of Covid-19, stressing that they risked being “disrupted” and separated from the “reminders” of their life.

Scotland's chief nursing officer said a balance needed to be struck in protecting care home residents.  Picture: PA
Scotland's chief nursing officer said a balance needed to be struck in protecting care home residents. Picture: PA

Professor Fiona McQueen said that some residents in a home experiencing an outbreak may not understand why their “ornaments, nik naks, and reminders of their previous lives” are being taken away for increased cleaning, but expressed confidence that staff would strike a balance in ensuring their safety and their mental wellbeing.

Appearing before a virtual meeting of Holyrood’s health committee, Prof McQueen said that grouping together residents confirmed to have Covid-19 was an identified infection control strategy used in hospitals, but pointed to the difficulties of enacting it in care homes.

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“The residents have their own room, they have furniture, their ornaments, perhaps shawls or reminders that give them comfort, and they’ve perhaps been in that room for over a year,” she explained. “So the suggestion that we group together residents who have Covid-19 on one floor means that you would have to take the decision to move them.

“That is incredibly difficult. The reason for doing that would be to protect other residents from being infected, and therefore you’re asking one resident who is already infected to be disrupted from their room and moved to protect others.

“That’s incredibly hard and I think there are other interventions you can do, [such as] additional staffing, additional cleaning to make sure it’s as easy as possible for social care staff to care for their residents in a way that stops the transmission but keeps the residents safe.”

She added: “That’s a tension, because we see the public anxiety about deaths and infections in care homes, but on the other side of that coin, we see the public anxiety - particularly that of families - of not being able to be with their loved ones.

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“It’s almost an impossible decision and we need to apply that to each individual resident.”

She said that where there had been “real distress” shown by residents, it was expected that family members would be able to support them.

Donna Bell, director for mental health and social care at the Scottish Government, earlier told the committee a lot of work had been done to ensure a balance between “minimising distress to residents and keeping them safe.”

She said experts in dementia were being consulted to determine how best to continue to achieve that balance throughout the government’s phased roadmap exit strategy.

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