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An independent inquiry is vital to learn from care home mistakes

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THE LAST EIGHTEEN MONTHS have certainly been a very challenging time for all of us living through and dealing with the various stages of this dreadful pandemic. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing and yes we have all made mistakes – including myself and Renaissance Care, which I am executive chairman of.

We stocked up with PPE in January 2020 and closed all our care homes to visitors on 11th March – ahead of the Government lockdown on 23rd March and then we introduced mask wearing by our staff from 1st April – again ahead of Government guidelines. However, with hindsight, I wish that we had closed our homes to visitors and introduced mask wearing by all our staff earlier than we did.

What is very important is that we all learn from our mistakes and make changes accordingly. I feel very strongly that to do this properly and in a full and meaningful way, we need to have a separate Scottish, judge-led, wide-ranging and fully independent inquiry on Scotland’s care home journey over the last eighteen months – and that Scottish Government decisions like hospital discharges and care home staff testing must be a major part of its remit.

This work should start now as a matter of urgency. All of us owe it those who tragically died in our care homes, their relatives and friends alike, that the dither and delay characterising the Scottish Government’s approach to independent scrutiny stops now.

During this tough and exhausting pandemic journey, my own staff, like many thousands of their colleagues in the social care workforce across Scotland, have been true heroes, going above and beyond while looking after their second families – the vulnerable elderly residents in their care. We should all be exceptionally proud of them. This journey has been a steep learning curve for everyone and we must continue to keep laser-focused on our most important task – the health and wellbeing of all those that we care for.

Just over 98 per cent of our residents at Renaissance Care have been fully vaccinated and close to 90 per cent of our staff have also now been fully vaccinated. This is good, if obviously not quite perfect. We’re working hard to get more of our staff fully vaccinated but I don’t believe it should be made mandatory. In my view, persuasion and education are the keys to success in this important endeavour.

That said, all new staff joining us from July 1st this summer need to be fully vaccinated before starting work. It’s not in our power to mandate existing staff to follow suit under their current employment contracts even if we wanted to and this is something the Scottish Government will have to look at carefully.

In the meantime, besides vaccinations, testing is vital. At Renaissance Care, staff are now accustomed to weekly PCR tests and bi-weekly Lateral Flow (LF) tests and we’re preparing to make requirements tighter still, with LF tests needed before each shift.  In addition, all visitors have to have a LF test before gaining entry to any of our care residences.

So while care homes are not islands, I am quietly confident that we can keep a third wave of Covid-19 out, both with vaccinations and testing and additional tools like UV decontamination units and temperature monitoring equipment.

The mistake made early in the pandemic was to treat the social care sector as a Cinderella service that played second fiddle to the NHS and therefore didn’t merit adequate protection. That mistake can never be repeated.

We’ve shown that with proper investment, care homes can be safe havens from Covid-19, as well as brilliant places to live and work, but only if the entire sector – including Local Authority care homes – is subject to transparency and scrutiny, from the top down.

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Photo of supportive hands by Africa Studio from Adobe Stock 

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