Covid death toll in Scotland’s care homes is a betrayal – leader comment

The Covid-related deaths of 537 people in Scotland’s care homes should remind politicians that the primary duty of any government is to protect its people, however old they are.

A nurse in PPE speaks to a care home resident (Picture: Frank Augstein/AP)

Have you been sleeping well recently? According to surveys, disrupted sleep patterns are among an array of problems people have been experiencing during the lockdown. But if it is difficult for fit and healthy people to get a good night’s rest, how hard must it be for residents of Scotland’s care homes, given the terrifying scale of the deathtoll around them.

There have now been 537 deaths linked to Covid-19 among care-home residents, representing one in three of the total number of people thought to have died from the disease in Scotland.

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Last week, the Scotsman expressed its dismay at figures showing 237 people in care homes had died, noting this figure was made all the more shocking because the situation had been so predictable. People so frail they need to live in a care home are obviously more vulnerable.

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And while the care home industry has noted an improvement in the provision of testing for the virus and that PPE is now being distributed in large amounts, they still say they need more help to tackle this awful disease. The Scotsman has tried to rally the public to stick by the lockdown rules and, as part of that, we have praised politicians of all parties, particularly in government, for putting their differences aside to give genuine leadership.

But we cannot allow the truly tragic scale of deaths in our care homes to pass by without making it clear that the failure to take more prompt action has been a betrayal of some of our most vulnerable citizens. If the situation is belatedly improving, we will wait to see the evidence in the figures and hope there is not yet more bad news to come.

Care homes have faced criticism, but a global pandemic is not an event they could have been reasonably expected to plan for or react to in the necessary way. Only governments can do that. And the primary duty of any government is to protect its people, however old they are.

So if government ministers – in London or Edinburgh – are sleeping well, they should perhaps ask themselves whether they should be. Could they not be doing more to mobilise our army of civil servants, enlist the help of private businesses or track down new suppliers of PPE? Being a politician is hard and it is easy to criticise, but we need them to be working almost night-and-day and to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to prevent this tragedy from escalating further still.

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