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NHS Highland to buy virus-hit care home in near-£1 million deal

Home Farm care home, 
Portree, Skye.
Home Farm care home, Portree, Skye.

The ownership of the covid-hit Skye care home is to be transferred to the NHS in a near-£1million deal.

Ten residents died earlier this year at the Home Farm home in Portree in a Covid outbreak, and an investigation was launched.

And now, a £900,000 deal, funded by the Scottish Government, will ensure staff employed at the home transfer to NHS Highland.

Home Farm Care Home in Portree was at the centre of the outbreak in late April where 10 residents died after contracting Covid-19.

It was run by operator HC One.

At the height of the outbreak, 29 residents and 26 members of staff tested positive at the Portree home.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman made the announcement at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing yesterday at the same time the damming reports into care at the home were published.

She said: “The transfer of the care home to NHS Highland will involve the transfer of the staff into the employment of the NHS with improved terms and conditions and importantly job security.

“The future ownership of this home by NHS Highland also provides an assurance to people on the island that the provision of residential nursing care in their community will continue.”

Legal action had been threatened against previous operator HC One after unannounced inspection visits by the Care Inspectorate found “serious and significant concerns”.

Ms Freeman said a “warm and caring local workforce under the leadership of NHS Highland” had made improvements at the home, which led to the care authority dropping its pursuit to have HC One’s license terminated.

NHS Highland last night said its sole intention has been to deliver “the best possible care” for residents.

Chief executive Paul Hawkins said: “We have worked constructively with HC-One over the last number of weeks to improve the standards of care within the home, particularly in relation to managing infection control in a Covid environment.

“Securing the future of the home under the Highland Health and Social Care Partnership within the NHS, will enable us to ensure these standards are maintained”.

The announcement comes after a plea last month for the Scottish Government to intervene to transfer the Covid-hit care home into the public sector.

NHS Highland and Highland Council were understood to have offered to take over health and social care at the home but required additional funding estimated to be around £1 million a year.

Local councillor John Gordon, whose father John Angus was one of the victims at the home, cautiously welcomed the development.

He said: “I think it is a positive thing but I think there are still a few unanswered questions.

“NHS Highland will purchase the home through the Scottish Government but nobody has actually said yet who is going to provide the £1.2 million running costs of the home.

“This could the first of many that follow this route of government or NHS takeover so we really need to know who picks up the costs.

“For a number of years there has been cost-cutting to a number of frontline services within care homes and there has been greed in that healthcare model delivered across the whole of Scotland.

“We are seeing the worst of privatisation in Home Farm.

“Everybody involved has been through enough turmoil; we don’t need any more questions.”

A motion signed by all four Skye councillors is to be lodged next week to Highland Council calling on the Scottish Government to fund the operating costs of Home Farm.

Skye MSP Kate Forbes said: “I know that nothing will compensate for the distress, grief and agonies of the last few months for those that have lost loved ones or been worried about the health of their friends and family, but I hope this announcement provides the reassurance that care home residents in Skye will receive the highest standard of care in Portree.”

Local MP Ian Blackford added that he hopes the transfer to “a first-class care provider” would give “peace of mind to those involved”.

HC One, who operate 56 homes across Scotland, said it did not know the source of infection that led to the outbreak in Home Farm.

Managing director John Kirk said he feels the transfer is in the “long-term best interests” of residents and believes Home Farm will have a “bright future ahead of it under NHS Highland’s leadership”.

Reports: Operators say lessons have been learned

The damning reports which paved the way for legal action and a state bailout at Home Farm have now been published.

Serious concerns were raised by staff at an unannounced visit on May 18.

Home Farm scored the lowest possible rating in five different categories, with evidence that staff members were working in excess of 60 hours a week, with little support.

The report found that residents were left lying in urine and faeces, sometimes long enough for it to have dried.

Some residents were also found to have more than one incontinence pad on, which can cause further problems.

Residents received personal care with the bedroom doors left open and no privacy or dignity, as well as forgoing the correct support while eating or drinking.

One person who was upset was described as “attention-seeking”.

Delays to the administration of medication and safe practice were also highlighted. Pills were found inside residents’ beds with some medication left in pots without being taken, leaving them open to being consumed by others.

Mouth care, lack of use of hoists to shift residents and skin and body weight monitoring were also areas the Care Inspectorate took issue with.

Poor leadership and a lack of action on recommendations in November 2019 to improve cleanliness, infection control and staffing levels were found to have not been met.

HC One also refused an offer from NHS Highland to assist with cleaning and disinfection, a move the Care Inspectorate has said placed people at “unnecessary risk”.

The report also found three redeployed HC-One staff chose not to have a Covid-19 test despite being requested to do so by public health.

A follow-up visit on July 13 found areas had been improved significantly.

Local councillor John Gordon said: “Reading the report I just feel completely overwhelmed, distressed and quite hurt.

“The basic healthcare was not in place and staff and residents have been completely let down.

“Being cleaned, dry and being watered, and being given the correct medication, are the very basics that you would expect.

“It is like a Victorian Britain report that we are reading rather than Scotland in 2020.”

HC One last night said it is “deeply sorry” and said: “Lessons have been and will continue to be learned from this experience”.

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