15.17 Thursday May 7: Rhoda Grant MSP has asked NHS Highland to start daily testing of all care home staff and residents who tested negative at the Skye care home hit by an outbreak of coronavirus. Home Farm Care Home remains at the centre of the island’s outbreak with 57 residents and staff testing positive for the deadly virus when mass testing was carried out on 29 and 30 April. In an email to health board interim Chief Executive Paul Hawkins, the Highlands & Islands MSP said testing at Home Farm Care Home should be carried out every day with immediate effect for all the staff and residents. Five residents have now died at the care home.

The impact of Covid-19 on a care home is being examined in the political row over a major outbreak at a care home on the Isle of Skye.

Initial reports of the outbreak of Covid-19 in a Portree care home said 28 out of 34 residents were affected along with 26 of the 52 care staff.  Further cases have since been reported as well along with several deaths.

And Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has today (Wednesday May 6) challenged Nicola Sturgeon to commit to testing all of the 85,000 people living and working in care homes in the next two weeks.

At First Minister’s Questions, the Scottish Labour leader criticised the Scottish Government’s decision to abandon the “test, trace, isolate” approach in March.  Mr Leonard said in the chamber: “In just the last week, the Covid-19 outbreak at the Home Farm care home on the Isle of Skye has tragically demonstrated how rapidly and widely this virus can spread in care homes.  It has also brought home the importance of testing all care home residents and staff, not just those who are symptomatic.

“First Minister, there are around 85,000 residents and workers in care homes for older people in Scotland. If we have the capacity for 10,500 tests a day, which you say are available, with almost two-thirds of that daily testing capacity currently going unused, then there is no reason why everyone in Scotland’s care homes, both staff and residents, couldn’t be tested over the next two weeks.

“Given care homes are a priority will the First Minister finally give a commitment to making this happen?”

Mr Leonard pressed Ms Sturgeon to give the R number for the transmission of Covid-19 in care homes, noting that the First Minister had “dismissed Professor Hugh Pennington’s view that the R number in Scotland’s care homes could be as much as 10” at FMQs last week. “The First Minister has confirmed today that a test, trace and isolate strategy cannot yet be implemented until the end this month,” Mr Leonard said. “But we know from the international advice and experience that such an approach can carry on simultaneously with a lockdown and can have benefits throughout the course of a pandemic.

“But we haven’t been told what that number is – if it is not 10. So can the First Minister tell us today or does she still not have sufficient evidence to be certain because of the Government’s failure to carry out a comprehensive testing programme?”

Yesterday Tuesday May 5, in the Scottish Parliament, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant asked the Health Minister Jeane Freeman about the outbreak inn Portree.

During Topical Questions Rhoda Grant said: “I am deeply distressed for the residents and staff at Home Farm Care Home. A constituent with a relative in the home has told me she was raising concerns with senior management of the company weeks ago about its handling of the pandemic and the lack of PPE for staff.

“She was also concerned staff were being taken in from other care homes without a period of isolation.

“I have written to the Cabinet Secretary and put down a written question asking on behalf of another constituent for a protocol for Care Homes in this Pandemic and have had no response.

“When will there be a protocol for Care Homes to prevent tragedies such as this one in Skye?”

Jeane Freeman replied: “The guidance to care homes is clear and that guidance is that residents should be looked after in their own rooms, there should be no communal socialising or meal-times, that visits should be stopped and there should be no transfer of staff from one care home to another because all of this is about breaking the transmission route.”

She went on: “I would like to point out, however, that many of the issues that members are raising are issues where private care home providers where the majority of the outbreaks are, have not, in some instances, appeared to follow the guidance that we require them to follow and that is why as government we are now taking a more direct intervention route in those cases.”

Rhoda raised her question after a relative of a Home Farm Care Home resident contacted her for support saying she had raised concerns weeks ago with HC-One which owns the care home about staff not wearing PPE.  She contacted Rhoda on Monday night saying she was shocked and distressed to see how her relative’s health had deteriorated in the last few days since being diagnosed with Covid-19. 

The woman, who does not want to be named, told Mrs Grant: “The sheer volume of this explosion at Home Farm has knocked everybody for six. Hopefully my husband is going to pull through this. But that doesn’t change my stance that somebody is responsible for letting that virus into the home. I am not condemning the care home staff in any way though, because I don’t believe they are to blame. They have provided wonderful care to my husband over the years.”

Speaking afterwards, Rhoda said she would be raising this issue further with the Scottish Government as well as the owner of the care home HC-One, The Care Inspectorate and NHS Highland. 

She said: “This is terrible. It’s shocking. This woman, who until lockdown was visiting her husband six days a week, has managed to see him yesterday on webcam for the first time in a week and the sight of him lying in bed desperately ill miles away from her is something no-one should ever have to see. We need to find out why the virus has spread so quickly to so many in this care home and why earlier mass testing was not carried out.”

On Twitter, Ian Blackford, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and SNP leader in the House of Commons, said the fact that 54 residents and staff of the Home Farm care home in Portree have tested positive for the virus in one short week “has shaken many of us. Our thoughts are with all those who have the virus, their family and friends.”

He said: “The public agencies, the NHS and Highland Council have shown remarkable leadership in responding to the outbreak, supporting those with Covid-19, their families and the wider community.

“Enhanced case monitoring has been put in place, public health guidance has been reinforced and steps have been taken to ensure the family members of those affected are fully supported."

He said that as well as putting in place testing for all residents and staff members, the availability of testing at the NHS hospital in Portree is now complemented by a mobile testing unit established at Broadford, run by the 3 Scots Battalion of the army.

“Critically, contact tracing is going to be an important part of our capability in dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19, this will be an important part of NHS Highland’s response.

“The public on Skye now have their part to play. I know the strength of community spirit on this island and I know that we will support all those who have the virus, their family and friends. 

“Now more than ever we have a responsibility to make sure we are taking all appropriate measures to stop the spread of this virus.”