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Scotland failed to properly understand the needs of social care during the pandemic

Criticism of the handling of the pandemic in care homes is not confined to the English Government. In Scotland Jeane Freeman Scotland’s health secretary has admitted that the right precautions had not been taken when elderly people were being discharged from hospital to care homes.

Ms Freeman told the BBC podcast, Political Thinking with Nick Robinson, that it had been a "mistake".

There have been more than 10,000 Covid-related deaths in Scotland. Of that number, a third occurred in care homes.

In the first wave of the pandemic, more than 1,300 elderly people were discharged from hospitals to care homes in Scotland before a testing regime was in place. The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the Scottish government's mistakes had "cost lives". Dr Donald MacAskill, of the care home industry body Scottish Care, said there had been so much emphasis on protecting the NHS in the early stages of the pandemic that not enough was done to protect those in social care.

Ms Freeman, who is retiring from Holyrood at next month's election, said: "I think our failures were not understanding the social care sector well enough.

"So we didn't respond quickly enough to what was needed in our care homes, but also in social care in the community."

UK's highest death rate in care homes was in Scotland

Mr Robinson put it to her that the UK's highest death rate in care homes was in Scotland after many people were sent into care homes from hospital with the virus. He added: "Thousands of words have been written about this but if there's one thing you think 'that's what we got wrong' - how would summarise it?"

Ms Freeman replied: "We wanted people who didn't need to stay in hospital any longer, because they'd been treated and they were clinically well, to be discharged as quickly as possible so we freed up those beds for Covid patients.

"Remember, the early predictions about the number of people going into hospital were terrifying actually. "But we didn't take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake. "Now, I might argue we couldn't do anything other than we did and all the rest of it. But it still created a real problem for those older people and for the others who lived in care homes and for the staff who worked in care homes."

Investigation of deaths in care homes

In January, BBC Scotland revealed a special Crown Office unit set up to probe Covid-linked deaths is investigating cases at 474 care homes in Scotland. The unit was set up in May last year to gather information on the circumstances of all deaths in care homes. Prosecutors will eventually decide if the deaths should be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry or prosecution. But care homes say the investigation is "disproportionate" and is placing a huge burden on overstretched staff.

Grave error

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said grieving families have been left without answers about what happened to their loved ones for almost a year.

He said: "It's a disgrace that the SNP covered up their mistake for so long. "Their report on care home deaths was delayed and when it was finally published, they tried to spin it."

He also accused the health secretary of trying to hide the "grave error" from the public. Mr Ross added: "People will be left wondering - why is Jeane Freeman only willing to admit such a huge mistake was made now?"

Summary

The admission by the health secretary of Scotland that the right precautions to protect care homes from the coronavirus were not taken, only compounds the situation that occurred across the UK with such appalling consequences. The whole strategy was based on the protection of the NHS at all costs and the freeing up of beds to cope with the demands of admissions of people to hospital with the virus.

The report may have been delayed and one may be sceptical about the timing given the health secretary’s imminent retirement. Nevertheless, to its credit the Scottish Government have carried out an investigation into why so many deaths occurred in care homes. In England we await with bated breath the announcement of an investigation.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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