Scotland’s care watchdog was warned more than 170 times about staff shortages at care homes amid the coronavirus crisis, an investigation has found.
BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme discovered that between April 3 and June 17, when care homes were required to inform the Care Inspectorate of staff shortages, 179 notifications were issued.
Freedom of Information requests by the programme revealed 30 red warnings were sent between these dates, indicating an insufficient number of staff to properly meet residents’ needs.
Care homes issued 149 amber alerts in the same period, indicating resources were stretched and staffing levels were close to affecting the quality of care.
According to the latest figures from the National Records of Scotland, between March 16 and July 19 there were 2,365 (54%) more deaths in Scotland’s care homes than average.
Covid-19 was the underlying cause in 1,873 (79%) of these excess deaths.
Louise McKechnie spoke to Disclosure about the death of her grandmother, Bridget Snakenburg, a resident at Whitehills care home in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, who contracted Covid-19 and had a stroke.
The programme said that at the height of the pandemic, 39 staff members at the home were off work, and Ms McKechnie believes the absence rate affected her grandmother’s care.
Ms McKechnie told Disclosure she found her grandmother soiled and wet, in a dirty room, with an open bag of used PPE in her bathroom.
“That’s how bad it was,” she said.
“It was meant to be discarded right away, to prevent any more infection getting about.
“She’d been in her bed for a long time, and her room hadn’t been touched for a long time. The debris had built up. I’ve never seen a room like that. There weren’t enough staff to care for their needs.”
Ms McKechnie added: “She should not have been left in the first place to die like that. Nobody should be left like that.”
A spokesman for Whitehills said: ‘We have apologised to Mrs Snakenburg’s family for failing to quickly remove used PPE from her room during the Covid crisis.
“Our infection control procedures have since been fully reviewed and endorsed by the Care Inspectorate, which has praised our high standards of hygiene.”
A South Lanarkshire Council investigation found “no significant issues that would pose a risk to care home residents”.
The Scottish Government said in a statement: “This is the biggest public health crisis we have faced in our lifetimes and the impact on care homes around the world has been profound.
“It is right and proper that decisions taken during this process face scrutiny in the fullness of time but we are committed to protecting life and protecting people from this virus, and all our efforts are going towards doing everything we can to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 in Scotland.”