Sheila Hall of the group Care Home Relatives Scotland said the announcement from Health Secretary Humza Yousaf on Tuesday that £8 million will be spent buying 300 beds in care homes for patients to be discharged into had been a “bit of a bolt out the blue to us”.
With hospitals facing a challenging winter, Mr Yousaf said the measure – which will only be in place for a “limited period of time” – should free up capacity in the NHS.
The plan was announced after both delayed discharges – patients in hospital who are well enough to leave but who are waiting on care packages being put in place – and the number of Scots facing long waits in accident and emergency both hit record highs.
Ms Hall said the families of existing care home residents are concerned that discharging more patients from hospital into such settings may increase infections, leading to homes being closed to visitors.
She recalled how in the early days of the Covid pandemic, some hospital patients were discharged to care homes with the infection.
She told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Our group is set up to be the voice of the residents that are actually in care homes.
“I think our biggest fear, we were set up in response to the disaster that happened during Covid in care homes, and we are terrified we are going to see once again more infections being brought in because of people discharged from hospital, and restrictions on our ability to spend meaningful time with our loved ones.”
She added that care homes have more recently been able to “get back to a little bit of normality and feel like homes again”.
But she said rising cases of infections such as flu has meant the return of “full PPE… visiting restrictions, because of other infections, not Covid, but flu and coughs and colds”.
Ms Hall said: “This raised warning bells with us and to now hear we are going to have discharges from hospitals, where we know there is more infection rates, we are terrified there is going to be a knock-on effect that will close the homes again.
“Our great fear is that the doors are bolted and we are not allowed to visit again, that is our greatest fear.”
Mr Yousaf told MSPs that buying care home places is an “extremis, time-limited measure, that is required to help us with the current capacity issues that we face” in Scotland’s hospitals – which have been operating at about 95% of capacity.
He said the “additional funding is intended to meet the increased costs of utilising these beds for a short period of time”.
He added: “These interim beds may not be a family’s first, or indeed second, choice for their relative. But I hope families agree in the current circumstances this is about making the best possible choice for those in our care.”