Balhousie Care Group founder and chairman, Tony Banks, has delivered a damning verdict on the Scottish government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The founder of the award winning Scottish care provider catalogued “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities” as he lifted the lid on how the coronavirus had affected the care home sector.
Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Tony (pictured) said: “Our government leaders argue that this was all unchartered territory, that they have done their absolute best, and that with the benefit of hindsight they may have done things differently. I argue that they had the power and knowledge to act much earlier to prevent the spread of this insidious disease among our most vulnerable population.”
Tony said a slow response, inadequate provision of testing and inconsistencies across local and health authorities had resulted in one of Europe’s highest death rates in care homes.
The Balhousie chair said the weeks and months since the first reported outbreak on March 1 had been “frustrating” and “excruciating” for residents and relatives and “hellish” for staff.
“They’ve been an operational and logistical rollercoaster – but without the good bits,” Tony said.
With 26 care facilities across Scotland, Balhousie was one of the first care home operators to go into lockdown to protect residents and staff from the virus.
Tony said the group had waited in vain for guidance from the Scottish government prior to March 11, adding: “We watched as coronavirus cases began to rise and realised we had to take matters into our own hands.”
The Balhousie chairman described the government’s announcement of routine tests for all Scotland’s care workers by Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on May 18 as too late too late with 1,749 people in care homes having already lost their lives to the virus.
“Apart from testing delays there has been massive inconsistency in speed and capacity across local and health authorities,” he said.
He applauded the group’s 1,400 staff for their “unbelievable work” adding: “Our heroes are sweating it out (literally – try wearing a face mask for twelve hours and you’ll know) while trying to keep spirits up among residents and themselves.”
The Balhousie founder called for continuous testing for care home residents and staff and a public enquiry and the sharing of information among care providers.
“In [the deceased’s] memory, and to protect the residents in our care today, we must learn from the mistakes of the past three months,” Tony said.
“Let’s get the whole care sector around the table and share the valuable lessons we’ve all learned. We must learn from the mistakes of the past three months. If not, we risk a second wave that could be substantially more aggressive and unforgiving than the first.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Health Secretary has made clear that the safety, protection and wellbeing of residents and staff in our care home sector is a priority. She has also said she would be happy to meet with Mr Banks and Balhousie Care Group to hear his concerns.
“The Scottish government has from the outset taken firm action to protect care home staff and residents, including issuing clinical and practice guidance for care homes in March, which has been updated twice to reflect the latest scientific advice. On 1 May, the First Minister announced that enhanced outbreak investigations would take place in care homes and the Health Secretary has also introduced enhanced clinical and professional oversight for all care homes
“At all stages we have set out very clearly our approach. We have listened and taken action on a number of other steps such as supporting care homes’ usual supply routes for PPE with additional national routes – a dedicated helpline, local social care PPE hubs, and a direct delivery of PPE to all care homes in Scotland; increased testing; and emergency legislation to ensure continuity of care in the event of a care home failing.
“It is right and proper that decisions taken during this process face scrutiny in the fullness of time but we are committed to protecting life and protecting people from this virus and all of our efforts are going towards doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Scotland. We have been and continue to be in regular contact with Scottish Care during this period. We continue to welcome the opportunity to support and take part in the sharing of, and responding to, vital learning from the pandemic.”