The Scottish Government is facing growing demands to step up coronavirus testing in care homes after it emerged the number of deaths there linked to the disease has more than doubled in a week
Weekly collated figures, recorded by the National Records of Scotland, yesterday revealed that Covid-19 has been responsible for 1616 deaths since mid-March.
Deaths in care homes rose from 237 to 537, with those dying in residential care now almost as high as those in hospital.
They are responsible for a third of all coronavirus-related fatalities in Scotland since the outbreak began.
The rising death toll of vulnerable, elderly care home residents fuelled demands for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for care home staff, and mounting concerns about a lack of testing of residents and workers. Local authorities are also facing calls to offer more financial support to the sector as costs increase.
Attempting to reassure families, residents and staff, Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said further coronavirus-related deaths in care homes were not inevitable.
Speaking at a daily media briefing in Edinburgh, the First Minister said older people in private residential facilities should receive “the same, if not more” support as other people during the pandemic.
She said that 35 per cent of Scottish care homes - 384 - were currently dealing with an outbreak of the virus and added: “It’s not unusual for people to become sick in care homes, residents are often frail and nearing the end of their lives. But that does not mean that we consider any of these cases to be inevitable or that we don’t do everything we possibly can to prevent them.
“Older people in care homes require as much, if not more, support and protection as anyone else in our society and we’re working with care homes and other partners to provide that.”
This week alone 15 residents have died at a care home in Dumbarton, 13 deaths were reported at a care home in Edinburgh, six people died at a care home in Aberdeen and “a number of deaths” have been reported at Bridge of Don residential home.
Scottish Labour urged the Scottish Government to produce “a proper contingency plan” for Scotland’s care homes in light of the figures.
The party’s leader Richard Leonard said: “Over the last few weeks we have all seen just how much we owe to our care workers and the amount of vital, hard work that takes place in Scotland’s care homes.”
Despite this, we have seen tragically high numbers of deaths among care home residents from coronavirus, and serious and persistent issues surrounding PPE availability and now levels of staffing in care homes.
“When the Scottish Government realised the pressure that the NHS would be put under by coronavirus they reacted swiftly by developing the NHS Louisa Jordan. Why then is there no similar collective effort to provide a contingency plan for Scotland’s care homes?”
He said the government had to “listen to the concerns” of care workers, care home residents and their families, and give additional support to those running, and working in, care homes.
GMB Scotland, the union representing care home staff, again called for the government to introduce a national social care strategy, and questioned how highly it was prioritising care homes.
The union’s Secretary Gary Smith said it had received no response from the First Minister after suggesting a nationwide strategy to “take responsibility for the provision and distribution of PPE, for testing across the sector and to ensure we have the capacity to deal with the inevitable demands.”
He added: “Social care workers had to wait until five weeks after the first Covid-19 infection in Scotland to receive clear and unambiguous guidelines on PPE, and many still do not have the proper PPE to do their job safely. Furthermore, and more than two months after the first infection, there is still no robust testing programme for workers to help mitigate virus spread, sustain services and save lives. This is having a significant burden on mental health and wellbeing of workers.
“Where exactly do our social care workers, many of whom are going through hell just now for less than £10 an hour, feature in the thinking of our government? And how can these workers, who care with dignity and professionalism for their services users in home and residential settings, not feel like they are being failed?”
Theresa Fyffe, director, of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “Staff on the ground need to be assured that they will be given the resources and equipment they need, when they need it.”
Private care home operator Robert Kilgour, which runs Renaissance Care looking after 700 residents, said the figures were a “tragedy”, but he believed the true number of those dying in care homes from coronavirus was higher.
“The numbers are based on what a GP has written on a death certificate, my experience would suggest there’s quite a sizeable number above that where GPS have not put Covid-19 on the certificate, but the opinion of care home nursing staff is it was responsible. The true figure is probably above the 537 maybe between 750 to 1000.”
He said he was “hugely humbled and inspired” by care home staff but added: “While the Scottish government have improved quite a bit in the last week on support with increased testing for staff and residents, and direct supply to care homes of PPE, it’s a case of too little too late, but better late than not at all. I would ask them to continue increasing care home staff testing.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The majority of care homes in Scotland do not currently have any cases of Covid-19 and that is a tribute to the excellent work of social care staff who, by adopting appropriate infection prevention and control techniques, are making a huge contribution to reducing the impact of this virus.
“Social care workers who show symptoms are eligible for testing through their local NHS boards and employers should be making those arrangements when they are needed.
“The Cabinet Secretary for Health and the Deputy First Minister discussed PPE issues directly with the GMB and there should be no shortage of PPE for care home staff. While provision of PPE to care home workers is primarily the responsibility of the care home operators the Scottish Government has taken significant steps to ensure that all care home workers should have access to the PPE they need, including by delivering PPE directly to care homes.
“Any social care worker who does not have the appropriate PPE should raise the matter with their employer, or if they do not feel able to do that, they should contact our PPE helpline at [email protected], so we can take forward their concerns.”