SNP 'catastrophically failed' residents as care home deaths figures published

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP “catastrophically failed” at protecting the lives of care home residents during the Covid-19 pandemic, Scottish Labour has said, after the full extent of care home deaths was published for the first time.

The BBC, using data obtained from the Crown Office’s investigation into care home deaths during the pandemic, published details of the number of deaths reported at each care home in Scotland for the first time on Monday.

Publication of the figures also comes after Nicola Sturgeon and health secretary Jeane Freeman admitted the Scottish Government’s guidance around discharging patients into care homes was a “mistake”.

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Labour has criticised the SNP over care home death figures.

Scottish Care, which represents the private social care sector, said the numbers did not describe the “unique lives” lost, the fact the “very old and frail” had been impacted most, and “whether individuals had been transferred from hospital or community, potentially carrying the virus into the care home”.

The Scottish Government said the figures backed a Public Health Scotland review that said there was no statistical evidence for outbreaks being caused by hospital discharges.

Figures released to the BBC from the Crown show the Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT) was considering 3,202 reports of confirmed and presumed Covid-19 deaths as of April 8.

A further 198 care homes did not report exact figures, but instead reported between one and five deaths. Assuming they each had a minimum of one death, the death toll would be more than 3,400.

The Crown Office is undertaking ‘Operation Koper’ examining Covid-19 deaths in care homes, with some opposition politicians claiming the investigation should interview the likes of Ms Sturgeon and Ms Freeman as part of its work.

Noting the publication of the figures, Scottish Care said the numbers which outline the “terrible toll” on care homes caused by Covid-19 only tell part of the story and asked people to reach out to support those living and working in care homes

A spokesperson for Scottish Care said: “The numbers do not describe the sad reality that those living in group and congregated settings such as care homes have been disproportionately affected across the world.

"They do not describe the reality that those who have suffered the most and who have died across the world are those who are very old and frail, and those living with multiple co-morbidities.

“The numbers do not detail at what point of time the deaths occurred in the last year. They do not describe whether they happened after testing had been introduced for frontline care staff after we learned the lessons of asymptomatic spread and the risk this posed to residents.

“The numbers do not describe whether or not the deaths occurred at a time when we know less than we do now about the use of PPE and other infection control measures which are now protecting so many.

“The numbers do not describe whether these deaths happened during this particularly hard second wave, with a much more virulent strain of the virus which has had such a devastating impact.”

On May 6 last year, Ms Sturgeon was pressed in Holyrood by Labour MSP Neil Findlay over the policy of discharging patients into care homes without a Covid-19 test.

Responding, the First Minister said “every single step of the way, the priority is to prevent infection from getting into care homes”.

Reacting to the figures published on Monday, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the First Minister should have learned lessons from the C.Diff outbreak in Scottish hospitals while she was health secretary and said it was “unacceptable and offensive” for the SNP leader to claim there was “no alternative”.

Ms Sturgeon was in the role when the Vale of Leven hospital was hit with an outbreak of the bacteria, which was a contributing factor in 34 deaths.

Ms Baillie said: “This damning report has revealed the appalling damage done by the virus in Scotland’s care homes, and our thoughts are with all those who have lost a loved one.

“The SNP catastrophically failed to keep our care homes safe and thousands of people have now paid the price of their decision.

“It is unacceptable and offensive for the First Minister to claim that there was no alternative to the actions of her government. She was health secretary when C.Diff raged through hospital wards and care homes, so she should have known what would happen. We also know that several pandemic planning exercises went unheeded.

“At too many times in this crisis, the First Minister has had her eye off the ball. This tragedy must never be repeated and those responsible for it must be held to account.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the deaths of those in care homes and a failure to protect residents is “still being felt”.

He said: "This will be the first time that many families learn the full extent of what happened in the homes of loved ones. When I hear about the number of people who died in care homes, I think of the devastated families across the country.

“I warned at the time about the danger of admitting untested residents into care homes, but the government insisted it was doing the right thing.

"Care homes were missed out of pandemic exercise planning, received more than 3,000 untested patients from hospital and then had to listen to the First Minister claim there was no statistical evidence this led to outbreaks.

"The repercussions of the failure to protect care homes and their residents are still being felt. Visiting is extremely limited, and many family members still can't see their loved one.

"Families need the ongoing inquiry to provide answers and the next government must establish the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic."

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Donald Cameron said the figures were “horrifying”.

He said: “Our care homes have borne the brunt during this pandemic and thousands of grieving families are still waiting for answers as to what happened to their loved ones. My thoughts are with those relatives.

“The SNP tried to delay their report on care home deaths and, when it was published, they did their best to try and spin its findings.

“These horrifying figures show why the Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for a public inquiry into what happened in our care homes to begin immediately.

“The vaccination programme is thankfully driving down deaths in our care homes. However, we must learn the lessons of the failures made earlier during this crisis and ensure vulnerable residents are never left unprotected in such a way again.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said the figures released were “consistent” with the review undertaken by Public Health Scotland, which the government said “did not find statistical evidence” that discharges from hospital led to care home outbreaks.

Instead, care home size was “very strongly related” to Covid-19 outbreaks.

They said: “We mourn every death from Covid-19 and express our sympathy for all those who have lost loved ones, and for the distress and grief experienced by individuals and their families.

“As the First Minister and health secretary have previously said, the Scottish Government will continue to learn lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic and, subject to the outcome of the Scottish Parliament election, intends to have a full public inquiry which considers all aspects of how the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled, including the impact on care homes and their residents.

“Saving people’s lives has been and continues to be the priority of the Scottish Government throughout the pandemic.

"We began the vaccination programme in care homes as soon as the vaccine became available in Scotland and this prioritisation helped ensure that from the start of 2021 there have been no excess deaths in Scottish care homes, and that since the peak in late January deaths in care homes have fallen by 95 per cent.”

A spokesman for HC-One said it held different figures to those released by the Crown Office about Covid-linked deaths in its homes.

He said: "We have worked tirelessly to protect our residents and colleagues and took steps to lead on transparency throughout the pandemic.

"When little was known about the virus, HC-One published daily case numbers and death figures for its Scottish homes, and engaged at length and in detail with health and care officials, our families, and the media."

A spokeswoman for Erskine said the charity has "operated within Scottish Government guidelines and spared neither effort, nor resource in our whole team's valiant, year-long battle against this terrible virus".

Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care, pointed out his homes locked down two weeks ahead of the Scottish Government's ordered closure.

He said: "Since the middle of March last year, over 300 hospital patients have been discharged into our care, scores of whom were not tested for Covid in advance.

"That we have lost so many beloved residents, despite the many safeguards taken by staff and management, underlines how devastating Covid can be once it enters care homes."

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