Full scale of Covid-19 deaths in individual care homes published after transparency battle

Figures setting out how Covid-19 ripped through care homes across Scotland have been published by the industry’s regulator in a major victory for transparency.
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The statistics show that death rates in Scotland’s care homes were more than six times higher in larger facilities over the course of the pandemic

Fatalities increased from 2.1 deaths per 100 places in facilities with up to 20 places to 12.6 deaths per 100 places in those with more than 80 places.

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The figures came on the same day the National Records of Scotland published the number of deaths from Covid-19 in individual homes following a transparency battle with The Scotsman.

The Care Inspectorate has published its breakdown of the number of Covid-19 deaths in individual care homes across Scotland.The Care Inspectorate has published its breakdown of the number of Covid-19 deaths in individual care homes across Scotland.
The Care Inspectorate has published its breakdown of the number of Covid-19 deaths in individual care homes across Scotland.

On Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information request the government agency u-turned on an earlier decision blocking the release of the statistics which they had claimed were not in the public interest.

The data shows the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow has recorded the most coronavirus deaths in Scotland with 809 deaths, followed by Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary with 628.

The Care Inspectorate on Wednesday published a full breakdown of the number of Covid-19 related deaths in each of Scotland’s individual care homes alongside the number of overall deaths in each home between March 16, 2020 and March 31 this year.

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The decision to publish the data comes after the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) ruled the NRS had unlawfully refused to disclose the same data, revealed as part of a collaborative project between The Scotsman, The Herald, DC Thomson and STV last week.

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The same Freedom of Information request was also rejected by the Care Inspectorate and an investigation by the SIC was ongoing prior to the NRS ruling and the Care Inspectorate’s decision to publish the data in full.

The watchdog has recorded more coronavirus-related deaths in care homes than the National Records of Scotland – 3,774 between March 16, 2020 and March 31, 2021 – although it said its data could not be of the same quality.

The failure to publish the data sooner was described as “extraordinary” by Scottish Labour.

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The party’s deputy leader and health and social care spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “What happened in Scotland’s care homes during the pandemic was nothing short of a scandal and the government must be held to account for its catastrophic failure to keep vulnerable people safe.

“The publication of this data is welcome, but the fact that it has not been available so far is extraordinary. The data also shows a figure which is at least 14 per cent higher than previously suggested by National Records of Scotland figures.

“Care home residents, staff and their families have been cruelly let down by the Scottish Government and there must be a reckoning at the highest level for those who allowed this tragedy to unfold.

“That’s why we need a Scotland-specific inquiry into the handling of the pandemic by the Scottish Government.”

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The care home worst hit by Covid-19 was Erskine Home in Renfrewshire, which saw 33 deaths related to Covid-19.

Lomond Court Nursing Home and Thornlea Nursing Home, the latter of which had its registration revoked by the Care Inspectorate, had the worst death rates in Scotland.

A total of 52.5 and 48.5 residents per 100 places in the respective care homes died from Covid-19, compared with 5 and 15.2 per 100 residents for all other deaths.

It can also be revealed the Scottish Government breached Freedom of Information legislation by failing to respond in time to a request for care home death figures.

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The government took six-and-a-half months to respond to a request for a breakdown of Covid-19 deaths in care homes before stating it did not hold the information.

However, internal correspondence around the FOI, obtained using the same legislation, indicates draft responses were due to be sent to special advisers in October and then health secretary Jeane Freeman in December for “sign off”. A final response was issued in April.

A Care Inspectorate spokesman said: “Our findings relating to care homes indicate there may be relationships between a high number of deaths related to Covid-19 and size of service and geographical location, including urban or rural settings.

“We continue to undertake analysis to help us better understand what we can learn from these findings to support quality improvement within the care sector.

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“The Care Inspectorate has worked closely with care providers, the Scottish Government and partners to support care services to respond to and recover from the pandemic, and continues to do so.”

The spokesperson added: "We are acutely aware of the potential distress and possible harm that publication of some information may cause.

“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.

“Following a decision by the Information Commissioner and after internal review, the data has now been published.

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“We know from our inspections and our experience of the pandemic that the relationship between the quality of care experienced by people in care homes and the impact of Covid-19 is complex.

“We know that any care service can be affected by Covid-19 and that residents of care homes were tragically particularly vulnerable to the virus.

“We also know that the quality of care experienced by residents did not necessarily provide an indicator of the risks in relation to the virus.”

On hospital deaths from Covid-19, NHS facilities in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde recorded the most deaths.

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The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital had 809 deaths, while Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary had 628, the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley 425 and Inverclyde Royal Hospital, Greenock, 138.

In Lothian, Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary recorded 368 Covid-19 deaths and the city’s Western General Hospital 152.

St John’s Hospital in Livingston had 134 deaths.

In Tayside, Ninewells Hospital in Dundee had 340 coronavirus fatalities while in Ayrshire and Arran the University Hospital Crosshouse, Kilmarnock, had 339 and the University Hospital Ayr 186.

A total of 362 deaths took place in Lanarkshire’s University Hospital Wishaw, with 297 in University Hospital Monklands, Airdrie, and 282 in University Hospital Hairmyres in East Kilbride.

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Aberdeen Royal Infirmary recorded the most deaths in Grampian with 261, Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert the most in Forth Valley with 315, and Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, had the most in Fife with 210.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of people who have died with Covid-19 lived in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, according to NRS data, with 17 per cent in Lanarkshire and 14 per cent in Lothian.

Asked why the Scottish Government failed to respond to an FOI for six months that was in the public interest, a spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we have experienced an unprecedented volume of correspondence at a time of competing priorities.

"We have apologised for the delay in responding and confirmed we did not have the data requested.”

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On the original non-publication of care home death figures by the National Records of Scotland and the Care Inspectorate, the government spokesperson added: “Scottish ministers do not direct or control how other authorities carry out their duties under FOISA, and it would not be appropriate for the Scottish ministers to comment on other authorities’ handling of requests.

“The Scottish Government has always been clear that during these unprecedented and challenging times for care homes, that the well-being and safety of the workforce, and of residents and their families was paramount when deciding how to publish sensitive information about care services.”

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