Scotland's care homes are being failed as Covid crisis rages on – Ian Murray MP

Judged by how Scotland looks after our elderly and most vulnerable citizens, we are failing as a nation, writes Ian Murray MP

Thursday, 7th May 2020, 12:30 pm
Mahatma Gandhi said a nation should be judged on "how it treats its weakest members" (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It was Gandhi who said “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

These unforgettable words were spoken in a speech he delivered in 1931. It is an adage that has been used by great leaders across generations in differing contexts.

The sensibility Gandhi spoke of then is just as important, relevant and critical today during this Covid-19 crisis - and brings to mind how those members of our society in social care settings are treated and respected.

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When I was at university I worked for a couple of summers as a kitchen porter in the Royal Blind residential home. Ever since then, I have had nothing but admiration for our care workers who do the work of angels every day, and for not much recompense. My late grandmother was also a ‘home help’ and was a lifeline for her clients, with many becoming close friends.

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But the social care sector has always been treated as a Cinderella service – under-funded and the topic of a paralysed political discourse for far too long.

If there are any positives that come from this pandemic, perhaps it will be a recognition that the way we treat our elderly and most vulnerable should be a measure of how successful we are as a country.

We knew care homes were more at risk

This was brought home to me starkly this week when the official figures were released that showed 43 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths in Scotland have been in our care homes. My thoughts are with all those that are affected.

We have all seen heart-breaking stories from Edinburgh and beyond. I continue to receive calls from care workers and families every day to tell their stories and raise concerns.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Before this crisis started, we knew that the older you were the higher the mortality rate. Experts warned that care homes, the very place where those age groups are concentrated, would need priority.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, forecast in early March: “When we look back over this epidemic... I am sure we will see a high mortality rate, sadly, in care homes.”

Tragically, the rate of Covid-19 deaths in Scottish care homes is almost double the rate of those in England. Scotland’s care homes have been at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland. So why hasn’t more been done?

‘Test, test, test’

Those working in the care sector have been raising concerns that a lack of PPE and limited testing, combined with bringing coronavirus positive patients into care homes from hospital, have created the perfect storm.

Scottish Government guidance sent to GPs as far back as March highlighted that people could be sent to a care home without testing negative for Covid-19 even with symptoms. This guidance stayed in place for five weeks. The consequences of this are hardly surprising given patients were transferred from hospital into care homes, even though there was inadequate PPE and no testing.

The GMB trade union said: “It’s an absolute scandal that people have been discharged from hospital into care homes without being tested and that workers in the sector are not being systematically tested.”

The trades unions know what is happening on the ground, and governments both in Westminster and Holyrood should have listened to them more.

Remember the World Health Organisation’s principal advice was to “test, test, test”. Yet even now testing will only take place when there is an outbreak, which is too late.

And both the UK and Scottish Governments only got around to largescale testing this week, with Scotland still way behind on numbers.

If as a nation we are to be judged on how we treat our elderly and most vulnerable, then so far we are failing.

Here in Edinburgh, we need the Scottish Government to get on top of this mushrooming crisis to save lives and protect the wonderful care staff who do so much.

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South