Fast-tracked new laws will let Scottish Government take over care homes

Emergency laws that would allow the Scottish Government to step in and take over the running of failing care homes will be fast-tracked through the Scottish Pariament next week.

A ninth resident has died at an independent care home at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak on Skye.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman announced the move last night as part of amendments to the emergency Coronavirus (No2) Bill which will be passed by MSPs this Wednesday.

It comes after concern about the length of time it took NHS Highland to intervene and assist with the running of the Home Farm care home on Skye where nine residents died after an outbreak.

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The new laws will allow Scottish ministers to apply for an emergency order to temporarily intervene and manage services provided in a care home.

Crucually, ministers would be enabled to exercise those powers in the interim before a sheriff has reached a judgment meaning support can be put in place immediately.

Ms Freeman said: “For the duration of this pandemic I believe that it is critical that a clear safety net is in place to ensure that if a care provider was unable to continue to deliver services, that the people who depend on those services should not be impacted.

“Our proposals build on established powers and would put beyond doubt that immediate action can be taken if continuity of care was jeopardised for any reason.”

Meanwhile new government guidance says care home workers who have tested positive for coronavirus could have to finish their shift if there are staff shortages.

Health Protection Scotland’s latest advice for care homes says a staff member would have to continue working if their absence would “create an unacceptable risk to the safety of the care being provided”.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that would only happen “in extremis”, and she urged care homes to develop contingency plans to avoid staff shortages that would require infected staff to continue working.

“This is about making sure that a care home is not left, even for a short period of time, without the right level of cover, because that would also pose a danger to residents in the care home,” Ms Sturgeon said.

Although the guidance states it would be acceptable for infected staff to work with residents who are also known to have the virus, Scotland’s chief nursing officer Fiona McQueen claimed this would not be the case.

Ms McQueen said she hopes infected staff can be replaced on their shift in “minutes and hours”, and it would only apply to staff in a relatively small number of specific roles, such as a registered nurses.

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