During Scotland’s Covid Inquiry, lawyers representing bereaved relatives have indicated that some care home residents may have faced neglect and malnutrition during the pandemic. They also anticipate that the inquiry will reveal instances where individuals were coerced into agreeing to “do not resuscitate” plans.
Shelagh McCall KC, representing the Bereaved Relatives Group Skye, emphasized that the evidence would likely highlight a systemic failure in the care model. Families are seeking answers as to why Covid was able to permeate care homes and spread so rapidly during the pandemic.
McCall pointed out, “We anticipate the inquiry will hear that people were pressured to agree to do not resuscitate notices, that people were not resuscitated even though no such notice was in place, that residents may have been neglected and left to starve and that families are not sure they were told the truth about their relative’s death.”
Many families faced obstacles in obtaining information about their relatives from care homes, often learning about outbreaks through social media or the news. For instance, ten residents lost their lives during a Covid outbreak at Home Farm care home in Portree, Skye, in 2020. This incident is currently under investigation by the Crown Office, and families have also filed a damages claim, alleging inappropriate use of air freshener as a disinfectant and failure to provide oxygen to some ill residents.
HC One, the operator of Home Farm care home at the time, stated that they had worked tirelessly to safeguard residents and staff throughout the pandemic.
Alastair Gray, representing Central Scotland Care Homes, a group of 21 independent care homes, highlighted the immense pressure and evolving guidance that staff faced. He mentioned that the rapidly changing advice led to concerns among staff about potential mistakes.
The initial days of the inquiry have shed light on the broader impact of Covid on the NHS and the social care sector. The inquiry’s approach is to first examine the overall impact of the pandemic before delving into the decision-making process and implementation of Covid policies.
Richard Pugh KC, representing Scotland’s territorial health boards, acknowledged that the NHS is still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic and is not projected to fully recover for some time. Pugh expressed gratitude to all NHS workers and recognized the emotional and physical toll they endured, especially when caring for seriously ill patients in high-risk settings.
The inquiry also brought attention to the disproportionate impact of Covid on women and children. Andrew Webster KC, representing the Long Covid Kids Scotland campaign group, highlighted the debilitating effects of long Covid on young individuals, obstructing their prospects of an engaged and fulfilling life.
Deirdre Domingo, of Scottish Women’s Rights Organizations, emphasized that the notion of everyone being affected equally by the pandemic should be dispelled. She flagged the alarming surge in domestic violence, sexual abuse, and rape, attributing it in part to the stay-at-home measures, which inadvertently made home an unsafe place for many.