- in In Pictures
Coronavirus testing should be expanded to care homes that are currently thought to be virus-free, according to a leading care sector organisation.
Scottish care chief executive Donald Macaskill said there should be regular testing of all staff and residents.
He also confirmed there was a “significant increase” in care home admissions in March as hospitals tried to clear wards.
The Scottish government said it was looking at the clinical advice.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said testing could be extended to all care home residents and staff if the clinical advice supported this.
Currently, all staff and residents are tested at a care home whenever there is a confirmed case of Covid-19, but only “sample testing” is carried out in homes that do not have active cases.
Elderly people are also tested prior to admission from a hospital, although Dr Macaskill said there were some “emergency” circumstances when a person may arrive at the home before the test result had been received.
Dr Mackaskill, whose organisation represents the private care home sector, told the BBC’s Politics Scotland the testing programme needed to go further, with “urgent”, regular testing of all residents and staff, “especially” in homes that are currently virus free.
“It’s not happening, we’re still arguing for it. It is one of the ways in which will keep people safe,” he said.
Asked about reports that elderly hospital patients were “dumped” in care homes early on in the outbreak, he agreed there was a significant increase in admissions in March.
He told the Politics Scotland programme: “There was a strategic attempt to address the issue of what we call ‘delayed discharge’.
“We had seen pictures from around Europe which showed an overflow of acute systems and, as a result of that, there was an increased incentive to make sure that people were cared for in the community.”
However, he stressed that people should be careful in assuming that this resulted in the “spiking” of coronavirus in the care home sector.
In_pictures ‘Hundreds of excess deaths’
An analysis by Scottish Labour, meanwhile, has highlighted the number of “excess deaths” in care homes which cannot be attributed to coronavirus.
The party said National Records of Scotland statistics showed there have been 608 deaths unrelated to the virus in the past seven weeks – “more than a third higher than the average for the last five years”.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard claimed “serious mistakes” had been made over testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and government guidance in relation to care homes.
He said: “The number of excess deaths recorded in care homes is alarming but it is also a tragedy for families up and down the country.
“The Scottish government has moved too slowly to act in our care homes. The need to put in place an emergency plan to get the NHS up and running again is greater than ever, serving everyone in our communities, including our care homes.”
In_pictures ‘Early action taken’
The health secretary was asked about a possible extension of testing to care homes without active cases, at the government’s latest briefing.
She said: “In terms of care homes that do not have an active case at the moment, the position is sample testing.
“But I can say we are actively looking at whether or not the clinical advice we receive supports increasing that to testing all residents in all care homes, and all staff in all care homes.”
The Scottish government insisted it had taken early action to protect care homes, while also taking measures to protect the NHS.
A spokeswoman said: “We took the difficult decision to postpone certain elective procedures and routine cancer screening precisely in order to ensure that our NHS had the capacity to cope with a potential surge of Covid-19 cases – and thereby save lives.
“The NHS remains open for vital treatments not related to Covid-19, as well as emergency and urgent care.
“Early action was taken to protect care home staff and residents, including additional deliveries of personal protective equipment and guidance was issued in March advising of measures to prevent the spread of the virus and prepare care homes.”
She added: “Work is ongoing to better understand the excess deaths and what proportion can be attributed to Covid-19.
“We will also continue to update the guidance to care homes as Scottish and international understanding of this new virus develops.”