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Care home COVID deaths may be related to size of service, says regulator

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Larger care homes may have been more susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks, according to findings by The Care Inspectorate.

New data published by the regulator this week highlights that a high number of deaths may be related to the size of the service and whether a care home was in an urban or rural location.

Commenting on the release of the data, which was made following a decision by the Information Commissioner, a spokesperson for the Care Inspectorate, said: “We are acutely aware of the potential distress and possible harm that publication of some information may cause.

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“Therefore, it is very important that data relating to deaths is considered in context to have a fuller understanding of the impact of the virus in care settings.”

The data covering the period from 31 March 2020 to 31 March 2021 reveals that just under a quarter of COVID-related deaths in care homes in Scotland took place in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

By provider, HC-One, recorded the most care home related deaths (553 at 56 care homes), followed by Advinia (198 at 11 care homes), Barchester (132 at 17 care homes), Renaissance Care (82 at nine care homes) and Care UK (77 at six care homes).

Erskine Care Home in Renfrewshire recorded the most COVID-19 related deaths for an individual care home (33).

An HC-One spokesperson said: “What we now consider to be the most important information about this virus was not common knowledge or included in any official guidance until late April, meaning many homes hit early in the pandemic responded as best they could with the knowledge the country had at the time.

“Our local teams worked exceptionally hard to support residents who fell ill, and they remain deeply upset by the loss of those residents who very sadly passed away. However, across HC-One’s Scottish homes, more than 78% of the residents who tested positive were supported to make a full recovery despite the very challenging circumstances and lethality of the virus itself.

“We are grateful for the Government’s introduction of Lateral Flow Testing and the vaccine programme, with the latter leading to a very significant reduction in cases across our homes and undoubtedly saving many lives.”

Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care, said: “The tragically high death toll right across the sector, despite the heroic efforts of frontline staff, is why we’ve been calling for almost a year for the Scottish Government to agree to an independent national inquiry into every aspect of the pandemic in Scotland’s care homes. The thousands of deceased residents, their grieving families and care home staff deserve nothing less. Why are they still waiting for answers?

“Since the middle of March last year, over 300 hospital patients have been discharged into our care, scores of whom were not tested for COVID in advance. That we have lost so many beloved residents, despite the many safeguards taken by staff and management, underlines how devastating COVID can be once it enters care homes.

“That’s why we also urged the Scottish Government to introduce urgent weekly testing of staff, which they announced in Mid-May, but it finally took until mid-late June for it to be fully implemented on the front line, with predictably tragic results.”

A Barchester spokesperson said: “We are deeply saddened by the losses and we send our condolences to all family and friends affected. The teams within our homes have very high standards, and they are continuing to work relentlessly to do all they can to keep residents and staff safe from the virulent disease that is COVID-19. T

“The First Minister and Health Secretary have acknowledged mistakes in Government policy and its support of social care were made, and particularly that it was a mistake to discharge people from hospital into care homes before COVID testing was in place.

“Throughout the pandemic our homes have had full PPE and their well-trained teams have worked tirelessly to follow infection control protocols in line with public health guidance which has constantly been changing. Due to the ongoing investigation by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal of all deaths linked to, or suspected to be linked to, COVID in care homes, we cannot comment on individual cases but our thoughts are with our residents, their families and friends and we are forever thankful for their kind support and kind wishes.”

A spokesperson for Erskine care home added: “We are and always have been extremely privileged to care for our frail and elderly residents.  The Erskine Home is one of the largest care homes in Scotland and during the course of the pandemic has actually cared for over 300 residents. Indeed, all our homes, operating within Scottish Government guidelines, have cared for nearly twice the number of residents that their bedroom capacity suggests. We have spared neither effort, nor resource in our whole team’s valiant, year-long battle against this terrible virus.  Continuing to care for our residents and support visiting, in a safe and secure manner, is still our utmost priority.”

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The author Lee Peart

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