Covid Scotland: Care home isolation guidance must now be changed – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP
Minutes of the Scottish government’s Covid advisory committee of early April 2020 show two things of note.
Firstly, clinicians couldn’t understand how Covid was moving around in our hospitals and evading infection control measures. Secondly, they agreed to accelerate the movement of patients out of those same hospitals and into care homes.
Most were moved without a Covid test, while some had even tested positive. That decision seeded dozens of outbreaks in homes around the country and nearly 2,000 people died.
Since then, a different kind of harm has been visited on care home residents: isolation. Infection control has deprived people of human contact and supportive relationships for months on end.
It sparked protests outside the Scottish Parliament and pleas from all sides to relax restrictions on care homes. While in theory that has happened, in practice care homes up and down the country are still in a kind of informal lockdown and it’s time that we addressed that.
Last week, a care home manager in my constituency wrote to me in despair. You see, a single resident testing positive does two things.
Firstly, it confines that person to their room for at least a week, but then in most cases it often leads to the suspension of routine visiting for the entire home, plunging those who live there back into the kind of isolation caused by the first and second lockdowns.
The sheer scale of Omicron transmissibility has meant that most of Scotland’s care homes see outbreaks with almost weekly regularity. As such, they are in a state of near-perpetual lockdown. If we were dealing with something that had the severity of Delta or another previous Covid variant, that would be entirely appropriate. But we aren’t.
This is very different from previous waves. All of our care home residents are fully vaccinated and boosted and they’re facing a variant that in the vast majority of cases causes only mild illness.
Yet we are still applying infection control measures that were more suited to earlier variants or the time before we had vaccines.
Every week sees new light at the end of the tunnel. Hospital admissions are down and Covid-deaths are falling. That reality is manifest in the relaxation of restrictions right across our society save our care homes.
That is why I’m calling on the Scottish government to revise guidance to care homes so that we need not deprive these vulnerable citizens of human contact any more than is absolutely necessary.
I attended a protest for care home families outside the parliament in October 2020. The stories they told of human suffering and the deterioration in their loved ones caused by isolation were simply devastating.
They carried pictures of those they cared about taken through windows and signs saying “Covid kills but lockdown tortures”.
It’s hard to believe, with all the freedom we once again enjoy, that Covid isolation is causing greater harm than the virus itself, but it is in our care homes and that needs to change.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western