Care home work­ers left untested as res­i­dents died al­most daily

●Staff fear they un­wit­tingly spread Covid-19 in out­break that killed 22


Ni­cola Stur­geon has de­fended the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s coro­n­avirus test­ing pol­icy for care home staff af­ter rev­e­la­tions that not all work­ers at a home where 22 res­i­dents died had been screened for Covid-19.

Pres­sure mounted on the First Min­is­ter yes­ter­day af­ter op­po­si­tion lead­ers in Holy­rood raised the claims made by staff at the High­gate care home in Ud­dingston that they had not been screened for the virus, de­spite a res­i­dent dy­ing ev­ery day at the height of the out­break in March.

The dis­clo­sure of the fail­ure to test the key work­ers came as Ms Stur­geon re­vealed care home deaths made up 57 per cent of all Covid-19 fatalities in Scot­land last week, a slight fall of two per­cent­age points from the pre­vi­ous week.

It was also an­nounced yes­ter­day that all key worker and care home res­i­dent deaths from coro­n­avirus will now be passed to the Crown Of­fice, po­ten­tially trig­ger­ing a swathe of Fa­tal Ac­ci­dent In­quiries.

The high death rate in Scot­land’s care homes has been raised ev­ery week by MSPS as num­bers have soared, with the Scot­tish Govern­ment say­ing it has ramped up PPE for staff, and stopped el­derly pa­tients be­ing moved from hos­pi­tals into res­i­den­tial care with­out two nega­tive virus tests.

At West­min­ster yes­ter­day, Prime Min­is­ter Boris Johnson an­nounced a £600 mil­lion pack­age for coro­n­avirus in­fec­tion con­trol in English care homes amid a row over ad­vice is­sued at the start of the pan­demic.

At Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that up un­til 12 March, care homes were be­ing told it was “very un­likely” any­one would be­come in­fected.

Mr Johnson said “it wasn’t true the ad­vice said that”, and Down­ing Street later ac­cused Sir Keir of “in­ac­cu­rately and se­lec­tively” quot­ing from the govern­ment guid­ance.

Mean­while, at First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions in Ediburgh, Ms Stur­geon said there were 238 care home deaths in Scot­land in the past seven days, down from 314 the week be­fore, and while the num­bers were “still too high”, progress was be­ing made.

How­ever, both Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive and Labour lead­ers ques­tioned her about the High­gate rev­e­la­tions, which were ex­posed by Chan­nel 4

News, brand­ing the lack of test­ing an “out­rage”.

Staff mem­bers told how a res­i­dent had “died ev­ery day” dur­ing March, with the last death on 4 May, but that while res­i­dents were tested, staff had not been screened for coro­n­avirus de­spite be­ing po­ten­tial car­ri­ers.

Sup­port worker Andy Stur­geon said: “I can’t see how a virus like this can go from one end of the home to the other end when both of these peo­ple are in their beds.

“The only rea­son I can think of is us we’re the car­ri­ers. As soon as there was a con­firmed case we should all have been tested to min­imise the spread.” Asked if he had been tested, he replied “no”.

Care home nurse Shona Zel­lama said: “When some­one’s health de­clines, usu­ally we have a care plan ... but all we could do was pre­pare these peo­ple to pass.”

Asked if she could be cer­tain staff and res­i­dents did not have coro­n­avirus, she said: “No, all

I can do is look for the symptoms. We all cry all the time, this should be a happy place, but we need to be care­ful be­cause we don’t want corona to be back here.”

De­scrib­ing the re­port as “har­row­ing”, Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive leader Jack­son Car­law said it was an “out­rage” that the ma­jor­ity of car­ers at the High­gate home had not been tested and ques­tioned if the same was hap­pen­ing else­where.

“Fewer tests in our care home, more deaths in our care homes,” he said. “Fix­ing test­ing must be this govern­ment’s over-rid­ing fo­cus and it’s clear it hasn’t been.”

Ms Stur­geon said: “When I first stood in this cham­ber and talked about what we’re deal­ing with, I said mis­takes would be made ... we’re deal­ing with an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion.

“There isn’t an hour goes by when I don’t ques­tion my­self, I don’t ag­o­nise over the de­ci­sions we’re tak­ing to make sure we’re learn­ing as we go and get­ting these de­ci­sions as right as pos­si­ble.

“On test­ing, we have dra­mat­i­cally in­creased our test­ing ca­pac­ity and the num­ber of tests be­ing done.

“But test­ing is clin­i­cally driven. These are not pleas­ant tests, they are in­va­sive, so there has to be a clin­i­cal judge­ment on when they are nec­es­sary and when they are not.”

She added: “We now have test­ing of all res­i­dents and all staff whether or not they are symp­to­matic of the virus. Those ef­forts in test­ing and in­fec­tion pre­ven­tion and con­trol are driven by the lead­er­ship of pub­lic health di­rec­tors in each health board area.

“We now have en­hanced surveil­lance in care homes where there is a virus and surveil­lance across all care homes.”

How­ever, Mr Car­law said the govern­ment’s pol­icy was ob­vi­ously not work­ing on the ground if care home staff were not be­ing tested.

Scot­tish Labour leader Richard Leonard pointed to ev­i­dence given to MSPS last week by for­mer Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer, Sir Harry Burns, that in care homes the virus was likely to be spread un­wit­tingly by nurs­ing staff.

He said staff were car­ry­ing the “bur­den of anx­i­ety and guilt” at the idea they could be spread­ing the virus be­tween res­i­dents who were be­ing iso­lated to their own rooms and asked Ms Stur­geon to give a “guar­an­tee” staff could be tested lo­cally, rather than hav­ing to travel to drive-through test­ing cen­tres.

Gabe Docherty, direc­tor of pub­lic health and health pol­icy at NHS La­nark­shire, said: “On the ba­sis of a re­port on 12 March of res­i­dents of High­gate Care Home with symptoms that may have been due to Covid-19, an out­break was declared by the NHS La­nark­shire health pro­tec­tion team and an in­ci­dent man­age­ment team meet­ing held on 12 March.

“Test­ing of res­i­dents was un­der­taken to con­firm the cause of the out­break and sev­eral were found to have Covid-19 in­fec­tion. Most of the mem­bers of staff who have de­vel­oped symptoms which may have been due to Covid-19 in­fec­tion de­vel­oped symptoms dur­ing March when test­ing of care home work­ers was not avail­able. At that time the limited test­ing ca­pac­ity avail­able was pri­ori­tised for pa­tients ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal and care home res­i­dents.

“Sub­se­quently, when test­ing for care home work­ers be­came avail­able, five care home work­ers were tested. An­other five care home work­ers who de­vel­oped symptoms were un­able to travel to the test­ing cen­tre at Glas­gow Air­port and they were not tested and self-iso­lated un­til at least seven days af­ter the on­set of their symptoms and un­til their symptoms had re­solved.

“The health pro­tec­tion team is in daily con­tact with all care homes which have out­breaks un­til the out­break has re­solved and been for­mally declared over. Care homes then carry out a deep clean and are able to re­open with rou­tine in­fec­tion pre­ven­tion and con­trol mea­sures in place and rou­tine mon­i­tor­ing.”

A Scot­tish Govern­ment spokesper­son said last night: “We are sup­port­ing the so­cial care sec­tor in ev­ery way we can and have ex­panded test­ing in care homes and are en­sur­ing that any care home with an ur­gent need for PPE can re­ceive it from our na­tional stock­pile.

“All res­i­dents and staff are be­ing of­fered test­ing, whether they are symp­to­matic or not, in homes where there has been a con­firmed case.”

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