'Damning' report finds Scottish Government 'discrimination' against care homes contributed to deaths

A new report has claimed the legal basis of severe restrictions on care home residents such as banning visitors during the Covid-19 pandemic was “unclear” as the Scottish Government was criticised for the “harm and distress” caused.

A 143-page report produced by Edinburgh Napier University found severe restrictions on care homes may have contributed to some deaths.

Commissioned by the independent inquiry into the country's handling of the pandemic, the report says confining residents to their rooms and banning visitors was "unclear" on a legal basis.

The report, published by the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry, which is chaired by Lady Poole, states care home residents were arguably discriminated against compared to other citizens.

A recent report found severe restrictions imposed on care home residents during the Covid pandemic may have contributed to deaths.

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Another report from the University of Highlands and Islands said the inquiry should be a catalyst for change as it described the Government’s policy for care homes as “inhumane” and warned "risk of infection during a pandemic must be weighed against the risk of losing humanity".

The report from the University of the Highlands and Islands states: "The inhumane policy for care homes, where residents were unable to see their families, contained in their rooms 24/7 and where some residents died alone, should be acknowledged and not repeated."

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Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland on Thursday, Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said: "The conditions laid and the restrictions imposed were extremely severe.

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“I think most of us indicated we had to be very careful that some of the restrictions were not likely to cause more harm than they were to save lives."

The chief executive said the planning for a potential pandemic did not involve the social care sector.

He said: "Social care was nowhere. We were not at the table in terms of preparation for a pandemic.”

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have repeated calls for Nicola Sturgeon, her health secretaries and senior officials to give evidence to Lady Poole’s inquiry under oath following the report.

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Party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “When Scotland’s pandemic story is written, the tragedy of that tale will be found in our nation’s care homes.

“This report is damning of the Scottish Government’s handling of care homes. The human rights of care home residents were neglected.

“Not only were Covid-positive and untested patients parcelled out to care homes, but vulnerable people were left isolated and alone, with little regard for their quality of life. No wonder so many families were outraged.

“Many of those who were banned from seeing their families are elderly. They must have answers now."

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Scottish Conservative social care spokesman Craig Hoy said the "deeply worrying" report pointed to failures in the Government's response to care homes.

He said: "It appears that as well as being lax in allowing untested patients to be discharged from hospital to care homes, the simultaneously strict restrictions imposed on those within care homes caused such harm and distress to residents that they may have led to further deaths too.

"This toxic mix of the casual and severe had deadly consequences in Scotland's care homes and it's clear lessons must be learned by SNP ministers."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “First and foremost our thoughts are with every single family who has lost a loved one during the course of the pandemic, and we recognise how difficult and painful this experience has been for staff, residents and their loved ones.

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“We welcome these research reports for the public inquiry, which will help shape the areas that the inquiry will direct its efforts. We established Lady Poole’s inquiry to provide scrutiny consideration on all aspects of the handling of the pandemic in Scotland, so that lessons can be learned.

“Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to save lives and we have sought to take the necessary actions, based on the latest scientific and clinical evidence, to keep people in care homes as safe as possible, given their increased vulnerability.

“That is why the oldest age groups have always been prioritised for vaccination and government guidance has encouraged providers to maximise opportunities for people to see their loved ones both in and out of care homes. The ‘Anne’s Law’ Bill, which will shortly be introduced to Parliament will also strengthen residents’ rights in adult care homes.”

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