My father went from hospital to care home despite Covid symptoms. Why? – John McLellan

John McLellan’s father, who died after contracting Covid-19, had a temperature while in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabether Hospital, but was not tested for coronavirus and was sent to a care home.

No one doubts Nicola Sturgeon's sincerity but questions must be asked about the Scottish Government's handling of the Covid-19 crisis, says John McLellan

It would take the hardest of hearts not to have sympathised with the First Minister as she fought back tears in Holyrood on Wednesday when quizzed about protecting people in care homes from potentially deadly infection. “Every single one of us is deeply, deeply concerned and moved by what is happening in our care homes,” she told Labour MSP Neil Findlay, whose mother is in a home. “And that is particularly the case for people like him who have relatives in care homes, but I don’t think there is a single one of us who doesn’t find this a deeply and profoundly upsetting situation.”

For anyone with any connection to infections in care homes that is unquestionably true, but in making her next point she went further. “Please do not ask these questions in a way that suggests we are not all trying to do everything we possibly can to do the right thing,” she said as her voice broke. No-one can doubt the sincerity with which Ms Sturgeon made the point, nor how genuinely raw are her emotions when faced with life-or-death choices, but as she and her colleagues will be quick to point out about the UK Government, neither can mistakes be brushed under the carpet.

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What it was like to visit my elderly father on a Covid-19 ward – John McLellan

My father’s experience is as good an illustration of the care home problem as any. On the basis of the procedure Ms Sturgeon outlined, just before he was transferred from the Langlands building for elderly patients at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital complex to the Oakbridge care home in Knightswood, he should have been tested to make sure he was not going to take the infection with him. He certainly looked pretty well when I saw him the night before discharge.

He had a minor fall in his first night at Oakbridge and was sent to the Queen Elizabeth’s A&E for a check-up because he was on a blood-thinning drug, and it was there the medics noticed he was running a temperature. It is now almost certain that was the first sign of the virus and, while it’s possible he picked it up in the transfer to and from Oakbridge, it is highly likely it was contracted in the home.

But even with an obvious common symptom when the country was already well into lockdown, he was not tested because he was technically an out-patient, despite having been in the Queen Elizabeth for over a month until the previous day, because the Scottish Government policy was only to test in-patients. Only Catherine Calderwood then and Jason Leitch now, the Chief Medical Officers, can explain what science-led advice doctors were following when they sent an 86-year-old man displaying a coronavirus symptom back to a care home where close contact with staff would be inevitable, staff who would then be with scores of other elderly people.

And sure enough the following weekend the virus was confirmed, but only when he had another fall and was returned to the QE, by which time the temperature had developed into the tell-tale cough. In other words, he was in Oakbridge for a week with the undetected virus and so multiplied the chances of other vulnerable people becoming infected.

I can’t blame the Scottish Government for his infection any more than I blame the Oakbridge staff, who were extremely attentive on the several occasions I spoke on the phone about my dad’s various tumbles. The brutal truth of these times is that the virus is so omni-present that people in their 80s and 90s moving back and forward between geriatric units and care homes are unwittingly playing a game of Russian Roulette because it’s just luck if they avoid the virus and luck if they live or die. My dad was just unlucky. But if people with symptoms aren’t tested before going into homes, it puts more bullets in the chambers.

And by way of stark illustration, BBC Scotland news showed a healthy lady in her 90s at Oakbridge who had survived the virus being cheered by joyous staff and fellow patients. My only visit to the place was to collect my dad’s clothes in two tightly knotted plastic bags. The examination of what went right and wrong will come later, but with over half of Scotland’s Covid-19 deaths now occurring in care homes. Neil Findlay was absolutely right to ask why people were being sent from hospitals to care homes without being tested. Despite what the First Minister said about the discharge process, she did not draw a distinction between in and out-patients and I know it has happened.

I have no doubt Mr Findlay would be aghast if someone arrived in his mother’s care home under the same circumstances as my dad, and a clearly concerned Oakbridge manager could not understand why NHS policy was not to test my dad before he arrived back on her doorstep with a temperature that first weekend. In the end it wouldn’t have made any difference to him and I personally don’t see the point of seeking answers which can never be found about how he became infected, but others have a right to know.

Sturgeon’s bedtime reading is at risk

It wasn’t what she set out to do, but in criticising the UK Government’s possible relaxation of lockdown, the First Minister gave welcome recognition of news publishing’s vital role as a source of information and intelligence.

“I’d rather not be reading about UK Government plans in the newspapers,” she said. “I’d rather not be seeing the front pages at midnight and that being the first I know of what they are planning.”

Now we know that Ms Sturgeon’s bedtime reading is the newspapers, we in the news business hope that will be translated into real support for a sector which has seen losses average 75 per cent as advertising markets have collapsed.

Last month SNP MSP Kenny Gibson asked Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop what the Scottish Government was doing to support local and regional Scottish newspapers and Shetland Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart put a similar question to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.

“We are working closely with the Scottish Newspaper Society to look at how we support the industry more widely,” answered Ms Forbes. “In discussion with them we have this week agreed a series of campaigns of advertising at Scottish Government level in our local papers.”

So far, the Scottish Government is placing adverts in weekly papers for two campaigns on a week-by-week basis. And that’s it. Maybe the First Minister should have a word.

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