Are our leaders truly powerless to stop Covid care home tragedy? – leader comment

The Scottish and UK governments must make sure they are doing everything in their power to prevent coronavirus outbreaks in care homes.

We must not let down Scotland's care home residents in the coronavirus outbreak (Picture: Esme Allen)

For the third week in a row, the news about the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland’s care homes told of an ongoing human tragedy that our leaders appear powerless to prevent.

A total of 338 care home residents died in the past week, representing more than half of the total death toll in Scotland over that period. In total, 886 out of 2,272 Covid-related deaths in this country up to 26 April have been of care home residents.

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Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said it showed “the SNP’s support of care homes is falling well short” while Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, whose uncle died in a care home in Ipswich after contracting Covid-19, accused both the UK and Scottish governments of having “failed our care home population... the most vulnerable in our society”.

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More than half of Scots Covid-19 deaths are now in care homes

Some may point to similar figures in the rest of Europe, but given the pandemic hit Scotland long after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, and also after places like Italy, there may have been a period where we could have learned from their experiences and moved more quickly to ensure that care homes were prepared with adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and that we had a greater ability to test people for the disease. The initial official advice that care home staff only needed to wear masks if patients had symptoms now looks inept, given the number of people who have the virus but display no symptoms.

And for anyone cold enough to shrug their shoulders over such deaths, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, last week warned that care homes are “providing pathways for the virus to spread” into the wider population. He also added the pandemic was revealing something that had been hidden about modern society, that we have “overlooked”, “undervalued” and “neglected” the care sector.

Among the latest deaths reported in Scotland were 24 residents of care homes run by the charity Eskine, which looks after people who once put their lives on the line for their country by serving in the armed forces. Three residents who died tested positive for the virus, the other 21 were only suspected cases because “testing was not widely available”, the charity said.

The Scotsman has expressed its shock and anger over the scale of care home deaths, but right now the over-riding emotion is one of sadness – for the loss of people taken before their time and the apparent inability of our leaders to do anything about it.

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