John Kirk: Care home heroes deserve our respect

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented challenges for everyone, regardless of what sector you work in and which part of the country you live in.

Care home residents are the most vulnerable to fatal infection. Picture: Frank Augstein

As the nation’s largest care home provider, our Scottish homes are facing countless and ever-changing challenges each day. But my colleagues are rising to these challenges with courage and with determination as they care for our residents. They must do this whilst also continuing to meet our residents’ complex health needs, and supporting their connection with their loved ones at a time where they cannot be together.

As a care provider, we provide 24/7 care to elderly, frail and vulnerable people who have complex and underlying health conditions. We know that Covid-19 targets these people and we must try to come to terms with the fact that, heartbreakingly, we will lose residents to this virus. This will affect every care home in the country.

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When the Scottish Government started to report on deaths at a national level, 25 per cent of Covid-19 related deaths in Scotland had been in care homes. As we reach the peak of this pandemic, and based on the international experience, we can sadly expect that percentage to increase.

This is having a devastating impact on families across the country, but also on our teams as many residents are our friends and have been with us for years. One of my Home Mangers has referred to feeling “helpless” as she and her team truly do all they can to keep residents safe from this virus that is often undetectable for days.

On top of that, our colleagues are worried about their own health, and that of their families when they return home from the front line. That’s why testing and PPE is so crucial.

We are doing everything possible to keep our colleagues safe, with more than 1.5 million items of PPE distributed over the past two weeks. We welcome the Scottish Government’s moves to ramp up testing and provide the peace of mind we all need as we continue to respond to this crisis.

In amongst all of this – the heroism of our colleagues, their kindness, compassion and commitment to turning up to work every day to look after our residents – it is frustrating and unjust to infer that Covid-19’s impact on care homes has less to do with it targeting society’s most vulnerable, and more to do with the care provided in care homes. This could not be further from the truth, and I have, quite frankly, been appalled at some of the criticism that has been levelled at some of our homes over recent weeks.

The behaviour of some sections of the media has been shameful. Paying neighbours to count hearses, confronting colleagues at their homes late at night, or breaking into the grounds of our homes to film inside resident bedrooms. Social care workers on the frontlines should not be subjected to this treatment, or to have their dedication to residents questioned whilst they risk their lives providing care.

We expect the care sector to receive oversight and feedback, but there is a difference between justified and appropriate scrutiny and the false allegations that have been thrown around during this pandemic. It does nothing but feed anxiety amongst the public, residents, their relatives and our colleagues, at a time when emotions are already incredibly high. It is hard to watch devoted colleagues have their tremendous work and efforts denigrated by people with limited appreciation of the realities.

We want to continue to navigate this outbreak with the openness and partnership we pride ourselves on. Covid-19 will continue to present more challenges, and while we work to overcome these, we want to help people understand what is happening in care homes. To that end, to complement the data being released by the Scottish Government, we will be making available the number of cases and deaths in our Scottish homes at a company level, with numbers encompassing confirmed tests and suspected cases based on the clinical assessment of a GP, Community Matron or a member of our own clinical team. These will be published on our website each day.

We hope that by doing this, our colleagues will be afforded the space and respect to continue in their monumental efforts, and that they, and relatives of residents who have sadly passed away, have the privacy to grieve for their loved ones.

John Kirk is the Managing Director, Scotland, of 
HC-One Ltd

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