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Skye care home families call for transparency in decision-making

Home Farm Care Home in Portree, Skye.
Home Farm Care Home in Portree, Skye.

Families of residents in a Covid-hit Skye care home claim they are being excluded from decision-making on the facility’s future and are demanding transparency from the authorities.

Ahead of a court case involving the home owners HC-One resuming today, Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, has been urged to intervene to ensure relatives are consulted in its operation.

The Care Inspectorate sought to remove HC-One as the care provider at Home Farm in Portree after an inspection identified “serious and significant concerns” about the quality of care.

NHS Highland effectively took over running the facility where 10 residents have died and other residents and staff have contracted the virus.

But at a virtual hearing at Inverness Sheriff Court last month a decision on revoking the licence was deferred after it was said substantial improvements had been made at the home.

This week it was revealed that, early in the pandemic, five hospital patients were discharged to the home before routine testing was in place.

Fay Thomson, whose sister Meg Cameron is a resident at the home and tested positive for Covid-19, has asked Ms Freeman to “assist in bringing about an acceptable level of transparency for relatives and the Skye community”.

Ms Thomson, the community lead for the Community Beds Workstream, which is implementing the Sir Lewis Ritchie recommendations on community bed capacity in Skye, said families have received only one formal communication from HC-One since 27 April, the day they learned of the first Covid-19 case at the home on social media.

She said families have not seen the Care Inspectorate report and have received no information on subsequent improvements.

Ms Thomson said in May a relative was told a Large Scale Investigation (LSI) would allow families to give feedback on HC-One’s management, but a confirmation letter  was not received.

This month, a letter from NHS Highland revealed there is to be a “planned and phased withdrawal” of the NHS Support Team at the home, although there will be continued management and leadership support until it is assured improvements can be sustained.

Ms Thomson said the letter does not ask for feedback from families: “It would seem the LSI is being conducted and concluded with no consultation with relatives.”

She added: “Despite numerous requests to HC-One, NHS Highland Social Work and the Care Inspectorate, relatives have failed to gain any meaningful information about what led the Care Inspectorate to instigate legal action: what has occurred to lead the Care Inspectorate and NHS Highland to support HC-One’s continued operation of Home Farm or the measures that have been put in place to ensure there will not be a repeat of previous mismanagement.

“Given the recent tragic events and the gravity of the Care Inspectorate’s concerns, following their visit on 12th May, I believe relatives and the Skye community now need absolute transparency and clarity if there is to be any confidence in those who will be responsible for the future management and monitoring of Home Farm Nursing Home.”

Diane Smith, whose mother Sylvia Ladlow is a home resident, said: “I don’t have much confidence in HC-One, NHS Highland or the Care Inspectorate. They have known about these issues for a long time but they only took action when people started dying from coronavirus.

“We are locked out of Home Farm, we are locked out of the court proceedings and we cannot see the Care Inspectorate report – what is happening?

“To restore some confidence there needs to be a lot more transparency and families should be involved in ongoing decisions about the home.”

Skye councillor John Gordon, whose father John Angus died at the home, said families are  concerned there is much going on behind the scenes without scrutiny from them.

“The lack of transparency is making us feel excluded. No one has seen the Care Inspectorate’s report, so no one knows what is being said and done after such drastic action of a few weeks ago.”

Government’s priority is to ‘save lives in whatever setting’

The Scottish Government said it cannot comment on individual cases or ongoing investigations.

A spokeswoman said: “Our priority since the start of this pandemic has been to save lives in whatever setting, including care homes.

“The Scottish Government has from the outset taken firm action to protect care home staff and residents.”

She said all decisions on the Covid-19 response have been informed by the available scientific advice and that will continue as more is learned about the virus.

“Our thoughts remain with all those affected by coronavirus – including residents, staff and families of those at care homes.”

The Care Inspectorate said a report on the inspection will be published in due course and could not comment further ahead of publication.

A spokesman said: “We understand this is a really worrying time for residents at Home Farm care home and their loved ones.

“The Care Inspectorate and the local Health and Social Care Partnership have taken action to support improvements at the home.”

A spokesperson for the home said it has been regularly keeping in touch with next of kin of residents and said relatives can also call the home for updates or contact the relative support team.

“We have contacted next of kin a number of times to provide updates, both through letters and over the phone and a further update is planned later this week.”

He said “sustained and continued improvements” are being made at the home: “We look forward to continuing our strong and effective partnership with NHS Highland as we progress with our robust action plan.”

NHS Highland said: “We understand that this is an extremely worrying time for residents of Home Farm care home and their families.

“NHS Highland continues to work with multi agency partners in Highland to support improvements at the home. We are also in touch with relatives and have advised any with concerns or questions not to hesitate to contact us.”