The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and Dundee)
Scandal of secrecy over soaring care home deaths
Operators under fire for silence over outbreaks • At least 16 have died in Fife home • Politicians furious at lack of information • Sturgeon vows to ramp up testing
Calls for greater transparency on care home deaths and infection rates are mounting, amid claims at least 16 residents have died of suspected Covid-19 at one premises in Fife.
Several deaths at the 60-bed Methven House in Kirkcaldy are being linked to the Covid-19 pandemic but information on the exact number of cases has been impossible to obtain.
Labour MSP Alex Rowley said: “There is a public duty to ask questions but it is difficult to get answers.”
Methven House operators, Kingdom Homes, have refused to comment.
Balhousie Care Group, which runs 22 homes across Tayside and Fife, has also come under fire for its secretive approach, having stated it will not be making public any figures relating to Covid-19 fatalities or testing at its branches.
Alexander Stewart MSP said the move by Balhousie “defies belief”. He added: “It is vital that care homes are as transparent as possible and that they allow residents and their families access to all information relevant to their care.”
Operators have been accused of putting up a wall of silence around tragedies in their care homes.
Politicians have demanded openness amid claims at least 16 residents have died of suspected coronavirus in a single Fife care home.
Deaths at the 60-bed Methven House in Kirkcaldy are being linked to the pandemic, days after it was revealed more people are now dying in Scotland’s care homes than in hospital.
Methven House operator Kingdom Homes, which has 12 homes in the region, has refused to comment on the matter.
Scotland’s largest care home provider has also been accused of lacking transparency over its refusal to make public anything about the virus at its facilities.
Balhousie Care Group, which runs 22 homes across Tayside and Fife, has refused to state if there have been any Covid-19-related fatalities recorded at their homes, in a move that has been slammed as “defying belief”.
Another major operator, Barchester, which runs Ochil Care Home in Perth and South Grange Nursing Home in Monifieth – where there have been at least 13 deaths – has also declined to release information.
Transparency concerns were raised further after the Care Inspectorate confirmed providers are under “no statutory obligation” to notify residents or families of an outbreak within homes.
Labour MSP Alex Rowley said information on the exact number of cases at Methven House has been hard to get and has raised the issue with Fife’s public authorities, along with fears over support available for homes generally.
“I have been contacted anonymously by people telling me there is a high number of deaths in that care home and staff are frightened.
“There is a public duty to ask questions but it is difficult to get answers.
“I certainly want to know what support and protection is in place for homes, and I am calling for full transparency.”
He said a full assessment should be carried out into social distancing measures and availability of PPE for staff at all care homes.
Kirkcaldy SNP MSP David Torrance, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee, said: “We need to be open and transparent for the sake of public confidence.”
Balhousie Care Group’s stance was revealed after The Courier approached the company regarding a confirmed case of coronavirus at its North Inch facility in Perth.
A female resident was sent between Perth Royal Infirmary and the care home four times in as many days before testing positive for Covid-19, leading to calls for more testing to be available for residents and staff.
When asked about the case, Balhousie stated it would not comment on any matter relating to deaths or testing.
It had earlier refused to comment on a case in which a resident with Alzheimer’s left its Balhousie Clement Park Care Home in Dundee on Monday evening and was found “wet and cold” in the street.
Alexander Stewart, Conservative Mid Scotland and Fife MSP, said: “To hear Balhousie Care Group has said that it won’t be commenting on anything relating to testing or cases of Covid-19 at any of their facilities completely defies belief.
“It is vital that care homes are as transparent as possible and that they allow residents and their families access to all information relevant to their care.
“Without transparency by those who are being paid to provide a service, how can families and residents feel confident in their abilities to provide that due care which is expected?”
Independent councillor Linda Holt, whose East Neuk and Landward ward covers Earlsferry House in Fife (see story on page 3), said: “Care homes are now in the eye of the Covid storm, and the time for banal reassurance while hiding behind data protection is well and truly past.”
The decision by Balhousie and Barchester to withhold the information from the public is in contrast to other health providers in the region including Thistle Healthcare, Kennedy Care Group and Priority Care.
The Care Inspectorate confirmed care homes are under “no obligation” to
“I have been contacted... by people telling me there is a high number of deaths in that care home and staff are frightened.
MSP ALEX ROWLEY
notify residents of an outbreak within their facilities but are required to notify the watchdog.
A spokesperson said: “We have asked that they keep us up to date with formal notifications of the situation in each home, and we share this information with the Scottish Government to assist in planning support during the pandemic.
“We expect care services to keep residents’ loved ones informed about their care and we know that care services are rising to the challenge of doing just that during an unprecedented public health emergency.”
A spokesperson for Balhousie Care Group said: “While, for confidentiality reasons, we choose not to comment on our individual residents, we follow closely the guidance issued by Health Protection Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government surrounding the care of our residents.”
A Barchester spokesperson said: “We are keeping relatives up to date with all relevant information as a priority.”
According to figures released on Wednesday, 108 of the 283 Covid-19 deaths in Tayside and Fife were in care homes.