Failure on care homes that some families may never get over

by Colin Campbell 

I KNOW care workers in Inverness and have been writing about them in different newspapers for years. One scandalous mistreatment of them was around 15 years ago. Tony Blair’s Labour government, virtually alone among EU countries involved, decided to abolish EU immigration controls and open the floodgates to all comers. A backlash from the public over the massive influx at the time then led to Blair’s gang panicking and seeking ways to deflect attention by seeking to change the narrative and present the message that they were, in reality, “tough on immigration”.

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Tony Blair’s government wanted to be seen to be ‘tough’ on immigration, with some care workers in Inverness bearing the brunt.

Some of the people they decided to “get tough with” included care workers in Inverness, mainly from the Philippines, who had been settled here for years, but suddenly found themselves targeted  with swift and potentially devastating changes in immigration rules which left some fearing deportation.

I spoke to a number of these distressed folk whose lives had been plunged into turmoil by the thickets of new bureaucracy they now faced and wrote about it at the time in a newspaper. This genuinely sad, sorry and scandalous story received minimal public response, and was not covered anywhere else. These unfortunate people were out on their own. There was no doorstep outbreak of “clapping for carers” back then.

That’s just one example of how people working in the care sector have consistently been viewed with indifference across the board, and regarded as doing work “that no-one else wants”.

All that has changed now – for as long as it lasts, which I suspect may not be very long. Care workers – for the moment – have been placed on a pedestal underpinned by fulsome admiration and support as the well-intentioned clapping and pan-banging echoes around streets across the country.

But the long-term neglect of care homes and the undervalued, underpaid people who work in them must go at least some way toward explaining why the Scottish Government has now been accused of a level of death zone failure in its coronavirus handling of care homes and the pressures placed on them.

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For the moment care workers have been placed on a pedestal.

Tony Banks, chairman and founder of the Balhousie Care Group said on Sunday that care homes “may as well just have crossed our fingers” when hospital patients were being discharged from hospitals to their care without testing for coronavirus.

He claimed testing in care settings had been “promised” and had “simply not been delivered”.

Mr Banks, whose company operates 26 care homes across Scotland with some 940 residents, said the decisions ministers had made meant hundreds of elderly people in homes had died “before their time”.

He said Scotland had seen “three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government” during the pandemic, adding that in Scotland “the rate of Covid-19-related care home deaths is one of the highest in Europe”.

Scottish Government figures disclosed more than 900 elderly patients were discharged from hospital into care homes in March – before a requirement for them to be tested for Covid-19 was introduced.

What a truly damning indictment.

And far and above the intensity of the criticism of the Scottish Government for its “mixed messages and mismanagement” is the human element, the anguish suffered in particular by the families of care home residents.

A week ago an elderly man died suddenly mid-morning in an Inverness care home. The folk who work in homes, while just about everyone else has been striving to “stay safe”, have been turning up for work as usual and just getting on with their arduous job. When a resident dies they may be affected to a greater or lesser degree but it’s something they’re used to, not just in the current situation, but all the time. They can’t allow themselves to be knocked back by it. Again, they just have to get on with the job.

But a member of staff said to me “it was sad”. The elderly man did not die because of the coronavirus. But the crisis engulfing these homes – with covid-19 deaths being recorded in homes across Scotland – was such that “lockdown” measures imposed were strict and unyielding.

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How much suffering has the Scottish Government’s failure on care homes caused?

This old man who went into a rapid downward spiral hadn’t seen his family for weeks. I understand they managed to be there to share his last moments but how much awareness he had of their presence was unclear. The situation was grief and anguish personified.

And many of us can relate to it. When my mother died in an Inverness care home we were visiting her every day. We were there throughout the day when she passed away. But at least we were around and about her for much of the time in her final days. Being unable to visit her for weeks on end – I simply can’t imagine what that would have felt like.

How many people have suffered enormously as their elderly loved ones have died in total lockdown because of the coronavirus crisis over the past 11 weeks? Unable to see them until perhaps the last few minutes, will they ever fully get over it? What a uniquely dreadful experience to have to go through.

There’s no place for playing politics in a dire situation like this. It’s irrelevant which political party is in government in Scotland at this time amid what seems to be a total mishandling of care homes and the coronavirus. It is no time for political point-scoring. But an appalling failure is a failure is failure.

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