'Postcode lottery' for testing says Scottish care home boss

One of Scotland’s leading care home operators has hit out at the Scottish Government for what he claims is a ‘postcode lottery’ in terms of testing across the country.

By Kevan Christie
Saturday, 11th April 2020, 7:30 am
Updated Saturday, 11th April 2020, 8:35 am
Scottish care home boss says testing is a 'postcode lottery'
Scottish care home boss says testing is a 'postcode lottery'

Robert Kilgour, chairman of Renaissance Care, said there was a wide disparity in the level of testing for both residents and staff that range from “hopeless” in the west of Scotland to “good” in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Mr Kilgour, whose firm run 15 care homes across the country also believes that at least 50 per cent of these type of facilities in Scotland have at least one person infected with Covid-19 living there.

His views come as the death toll from coronavirus in Scottish care homes continues to rise, with nine people reported to have died at Tranent Care Home in East Lothian, the fourth home associated with a high number of fatalities in Scotland.

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Large clusters have also emerged at two residential homes, including 12 fatalities at one in Cranhill, Glasgow, and eight at another care home in Dumbarton.

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Nine residents in single East Lothian care home die with deaths linked to corona...

Scottish Care, the sector’s umbrella body, said GPs should be required to visit care homes or take residents to hospital when necessary – a call echoed by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, on Tuesday, and Professor Fiona McQueen, Scotland’s chief nursing officer.

Mr Kilgour said: “There seems to be a ‘postcode lottery’ in Scotland just now on testing for both care home residents and staff - a couple of areas are good - some are poor and some hopeless.

“One or more residents in half our homes are showing signs of Covid-19 but we don’t know if those showing signs are definitely coronavirus because of the availability of testing for care home residents and staff.

“Edinburgh and Lothian, Tayside and Perthshire are good - if we want testing we can get it.

“Aberdeen we asked for testing the other day and were told ‘sorry we’ve got no resources’ to test care home staff or residents.

“My people tell me the west of Scotland is ‘hopeless’, that’s their exact words - hopeless as regards to when you make the request for testing.

“This drive through thing at Glasgow Airport is only for NHS staff and only by appointment, so it’s not for care home staff.

“If testing was hopeless throughout Scotland you could more easily understand it but I don’t understand why it’s so patchy.”

Mr Kilgour is calling on the Scottish Government to “get a grip” of the care sector with the Alzheimer’s Society saying they believe the coronavirus is now active in around half of care settings - which look after around 400,000 people in the UK.

He added: “The Scottish Government talk-the-talk but they need to walk-the-walk and what we’re seeing out there on the frontline is just not what they’re saying from the podium.

“The Scottish Government are certainly introducing deaths figures from care homes and people who are dying at home from suspected coronavirus.

“We have 700 beds out of the 38,000 care home beds in Scotland and the deaths figure should be a lot higher - it’s probably just too logistically difficult [to measure].

“My concern is that just when we see a plateau of NHS hospital cases and deaths we’re certainly feeling that we’re very much on an upward curve in the care sector.”

Scottish Conservatives MSP, Miles Briggs, said: “These warnings coming from care home providers are incredibly serious and must be urgently addressed.

“We are now a month into the Coronavirus outbreak and care home staff and vulnerable residents are still being put into this unacceptable situation.

“SNP Ministers are saying there are adequate supplies of PPE but it is evident that this is not being delivered to the frontline. It is clear that the Care Home Sector in Scotland is crying out for help from SNP Ministers to protect staff and residents.

“We need to see Care Homes made a priority to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

“At a time when we’re seeing some care homes record alarmingly high numbers of deaths, it’s something Nicola Sturgeon must focus her attention on as a matter of urgency.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Boards have been asked to prioritise access to testing using all available capacity, in a way that best meets the needs and service pressures on health and social care in their own areas.

“As key workers, care home workers should have access to testing. This is being prioritised to enable those in crucial roles to return to work if it is safe for them to do so.

“If anyone is self-isolating because they or someone in their household is symptomatic, but tests confirm that person does not in fact have COVID-19, then they can safely return to work. The tests we have available are effective at identifying people who have COVID-19, but only when they are symptomatic. They cannot reliably detect infection prior to the onset of symptoms.

“The Care Inspectorate continues to provide advice and support to Scotland’s care homes.

“Any care home workers who are concerned in relation to possible outbreaks should report to their local health protection team which is responsible for management of any outbreak and the use of testing to support that.

“We are in close contact with the Care Inspectorate to understand the broader impact of Covid-19 on the care sector and the Health Secretary is also looking to see how the testing of care workers can be increased.”