Probe launched over claim new care home residents are 'being refused coronavirus tests'

Dan Sanderson
·3-min read
Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, contacted the head of Scottish Care over the claims - AFP/AFP
Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, contacted the head of Scottish Care over the claims - AFP/AFP

An investigation has been launched into claims that GPs and public health officials are refusing to test elderly people for coronavirus before they are admitted to Scottish care homes.

Donald Macaskill, the chief executive of Scottish Care, has called for an “urgent review” after he revealed that while those moving from hospitals to care homes were being tested, this was not always the case for other admissions.

Early in the pandemic, hundreds of elderly people were transferred from hospitals to care homes without being tested, a policy that was seen as having a catastrophic impact on the facilities, where around 2,000 people have died due to the virus.

Dr Macaskill said that he had been told by “many care home managers” that GPs and and public health officials were refusing to test people who were admitted from the community.

He said there was “little point” in testing people from hospitals if those entering homes from elsewhere were not also examined, adding “this needs reviewed urgently”.

According to National Records of Scotland, 46 per cent of the 4,173 deaths in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate took place in care homes. 

At least 154 further deaths occurred of care home residents in hospitals and almost two thirds of Scottish care homes have reported at least one coronavirus case.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: “Reports of new care home residents being refused Covid-19 tests are worrying and Nicola Sturgeon must provide an urgent explanation.

“Care homes should not be accepting residents who have not been tested. The Scottish Government must apologise and fix the problem.”

Jeane Freeman, the health secretary, said in late May that all 50,000 care home staff should be tested weekly, but according to the latest figures, only 33,346 received tests in the week to July 5.

The Scottish Government said Ms Freeman had been in touch with Mr Macaskill to discuss his latest concerns.

“We are now clarifying the details and background to allow us to resolve any delay in implementing the national policy as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman added.

“We have been clear that all people being admitted to a care home, either from the community or hospital, should be tested prior to admission where it is clinically safe to do so and should be isolated for 14 days." 

On Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon defended her handling of Covid-19 with regard to care homes, saying she rejected official figures which suggest that a far lower proportion of coronavirus deaths had taken place in the facilities in England.

The First Minister said she "regrets and apologises for" every death from Covid-19, but added: "What I absolutely refute is that there was some particular problem in Scotland or that we didn't take great care."

Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish Secretary, said that a “series of catastrophic errors” had been made in relation to care homes at the start of the pandemic.

He added: “Today, there are still problems with the testing of care home residents. Scotland’s excess deaths rate is one of the worst in the world, and it is insulting for Nicola Sturgeon to resort to questioning the data from England in response to this. That offers no comfort to those who have lost loved ones.”