Nicola Sturgeon defends care home record as she is accused of betrayal

Nicola Sturgeon has defended her government’s record on care homes during the coronavirus outbreak as the head of a leading care provider accused ministers of having “betrayed” the sector and its residents.

Tony Banks, chairman and founder of the Balhousie Care Group, claimed there had been “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities”.

He said care homes “may as well just have crossed our fingers” when hospital patients were being discharged from hospitals to their care without testing for coronavirus.

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Mr Banks, whose company operates 26 care homes across Scotland with some 940 residents, claimed testing “promised” in care settings had “simply not been delivered”, meaning hundreds of elderly people in homes had died “before their time”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Scottish Government figures disclosed more than 900 elderly patients were discharged from hospital into care homes in March, before a requirement for them to be tested for Covid-19 was introduced.

The First Minister defended the policy in an interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge yesterday, arguing that, “back then, the view was that people who didn’t have symptoms, either because they were presymptomatic or asymptomatic, didn’t shed the virus.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “What people like me were advised back then is that the tests weren’t reliable in people who didn’t have symptoms.”

But she admitted: “Some of these decisions and the implications of what has happened over the past couple of months will live with me for probably the rest of my life.”

The World Health Organisation issued an alert on 2 April that “transmission from a pre-symptomatic case can occur before symptom onset” but guidance from the Scottish Government to care homes stating that patients being transferred from hospital do not routinely need confirmation of a negative Covid test was in force until 22 April.

Writing in the Herald on Sunday newspaper, Mr Banks said: “We asked for the patients to be tested for Covid-19 before we took them and were told no. In at least one of our care homes we can directly attribute the first positive cases of Covid-19 to a new admission from hospital.”

He added: “It was 62 days between March 1 – the date of the first positive test in Scotland – and May 1 when the Scottish Government promised sample testing in homes without the virus, and testing of all residents and staff where there were cases.”

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He said it was now “crucial” that there was “enough testing” for staff and residents in homes.

The First Minister told Sky News: “The older people that were in hospital, the so-called delayed discharges, they didn’t need to be in hospital, they had no medical need to be in hospital, we were expecting, and in some cases saw, an influx of coronavirus patients into our hospitals.

“It would have been unthinkable simply to leave older patients where they were in hospital, that would also have put them at serious risk.

“What we did was put in place a system of risk assessment for older people being discharged from hospitals and gave guidance to care home providers about the isolation and infection prevention and control procedures they should have been following.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she would be “very happy” to meet Mr Banks and “hear what he has got to say”.

The First Minister also claimed England is “under-reporting” the levels of coronavirus deaths in care homes.

Deaths in care homes between mid-March and the end of May were 94 per cent higher than average, and 46 per cent of deaths linked to coronavirus in Scotland have taken place in care homes, compared with 28 per cent in England and Wales.

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