Coronavirus: ‘Sick patients in Scottish care homes allowed to mingle with healthy people’
19 May 2020, 11:41 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 16:00
Staff members employed by the UK’s biggest care home operator today told of their concerns over alleged failings in the care of suspected coronavirus patients in homes in Scotland.
A whistleblower told LBC News that they had seen elderly residents showing symptoms of coronavirus not being put into isolation and being allowed to “mingle” with healthy people.
A number of whistleblowers who work in HC-One care homes across Scotland told LBC News of their concerns that safe practices were not being properly followed, including guidance against communal areas being used.
One member of staff at a care home in the West of Scotland, who contracted Covid-19, told us anonymously: “Some of the residents got infected, and they died. They brought this lady and sat her in the day room, even though she was sick.
“There were other residents who would just be walking around. They would mingle with her, they would go and stand beside her or even touch her.”
LBC News has also heard some staff members have been asked to work with residents who have coronavirus without adequate PPE.
The same worker, from the West of Scotland, told us: “The way they allocated work to me, they knew that these residents were confirmed cases - why did they pass that on to me without any [PPE]? I wondered if I was infected.”
The claim comes as union representatives tell us many employees are also being told to keep coming into work, even if they’re ill, because care homes are so short of staff.
The relative of another worker, elsewhere in Scotland, told us their family member was told to come in to work while he had symptoms.
They told us: “[He] felt ill and phoned the manager of the care home he works at, who advised him to come into work in spite of the symptoms, as so many staff were ill.
“He phoned the GP the next day who told him stay off until he was tested. He has the virus.”
HC-One operates 328 homes in the UK – 56 of them in Scotland.
They say up to 17 May, 903 residents across the UK had passed away with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
In Scotland, 207 HC-One residents have died with Coronavirus, which equates to 14% of all care home deaths linked to Covid-19 north of the border.
The company operates 5% of care homes in Scotland.
After speaking to a number of care home employees, Deborah Clarke from Unison told LBC News: “No matter where these people work and I speak to them they haven’t seen the guidance.
“Either managers themselves aren’t aware of it and aren’t reading it, or they are and they’re simply not capable of interpreting that guidance for their staff and making sure it’s done.
“I don’t understand why we haven’t stepped in sooner. I suspect because they’re private care homes which gives them the power to keep people out.
“I think the call has to come – and I never thought I would say this – but we have to take these services back [into public management].”
Nicola Sturgeon said today the claims are a matter of “very significant concern” to her, the Health Secretary and the government.
The Scottish Government has proposed new powers for ministers to step in and take control of any care homes where there is concerns for the life, health or wellbeing of any person, linked to coronavirus.
MSPs are due to debate those powers at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Government said: “We have taken additional action to significantly strengthen oversight of Scotland’s care homes.
“From today, clinical and care professionals at NHS boards and local authorities will have a lead role in the oversight for care homes in their area, including all run by HC-One, ensuring clarity and consistency across the country about the role of boards and local authorities in helping to keep their residents safe from coronavirus.
“A safe residential environment in care homes remains our top priority and we published clinical guidance for the sector on the 13 March, which as updated on 26 March and more recently on the 15 May. We are testing enhanced outbreak investigations in care homes where there are cases, sample testing in care homes where there are no cases and the extension announced today of testing for all care home workers.”
A spokesperson for HC-One said: “Throughout this pandemic we’ve championed our colleagues and their vital role on the front line caring for, and bringing joy and kindness to, our residents’ lives. We’ve therefore been responding to their feedback and putting in place new measures each week to support them as best we can through these challenging times.
“We are therefore shocked by the allegations that have been made today, as they all directly contravene the policies and safeguards we have in place and the ethos and culture we seek to foster.
"We certainly do not recognise any of these claims from the feedback we’ve received directly though the multiple internal, external and anonymous ways colleagues can share any concerns with us.
“We therefore implore Unison to contact us directly and to provide the detailed information we need to fully investigate these claims so that we can make sure our colleagues and our residents are safe and protected – they are our absolute priority at all times.”
Reporting by Fraser Knight and Jack Foster