HINDSIGHT can be a wonderful thing, but Jeane Freeman – the retiring Scottish Government Health Secretary – deserves credit for the honesty of her comments on hospital transfers to care homes during the first few months of the pandemic lockdown, however belated they came. The contrast with the position the government adopted during the pandemic’s first wave, then maintained until last week, was stark.
Back during that earliest bewildering pandemic phase, as far as ministers were concerned, the NHS came first and social care came a poor runner up. Our vulnerable elderly residents were treated like second class citizens, cleared out of hospitals as quickly as possible, whether they were tested or not. Some were even cleared out having had the test but without waiting on the result to establish if they indeed had Covid-19.
The result put care homes on the back foot from the start. At Renaissance Care we entered a rollercoaster 73-day period when in spite of every available precaution taken, Covid took hold among vulnerable residents. Tragically, by mid-June, 48 of our much loved residents had died, though a further 98 recovered. Our staff were the real heroes who helped them to recover against the odds, fighting for their second families – I’m incredibly proud of them all.
As Ms Freeman has suggested, the government made some bad choices. She admitted the delay in requiring testing before discharging was a “mistake”, but we should also remember that the same mistake was made in England – but when corrected and communicated publicly by Matt Hancock the Scottish Government carried on. It was not a mistake made in ignorance.
The issue was even raised in parliament and MSPs who did so were repudiated for having the audacity to question the Government’s decision.
So what could have been done differently? Besides urgently stopping hospital discharges to care homes without testing and considering the results, a huge opportunity was missed to introduce weekly testing of all care home staff early enough. Ministers announced this intention in mid-May but it wasn’t until the end of June that we saw action on the ground. So many lives could have been saved if they’d acted sooner.
We all need to learn lessons from our national Covid journey – an urgent independent public inquiry must underpin steps to help us work better together as we rebuild our economy and adapt to the new normal.
We all owe those who have tragically lost their lives in the last year, their families and friends nothing less.
Photo of Jeane Freeman by Scottish Government – COVID-19 press conference – 12 March 2021, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=101928005