A care home boss has accused the Scottish Government for three months of “mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities” during the pandemic.

Tony Banks, chairman and founder of Balhousie Care Group (BCG), claimed the Government had possessed the “power and knowledge” to prevent the spread of the disease.

He also wrote that private operators felt betrayed and criticised the practice of moving patients from hospitals to care homes without testing them for covid-19.

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The coronavirus death toll in care homes has become one of the biggest tragedies during the pandemic.

According to the National Records of Scotland, 46.3% of the 3379 fatalities were in care homes. Almost as many people have died from coronavirus in care homes as in hospitals.

A lack of PPE for staff and residents has been cited as a failing and in recent weeks Ministers have also been slammed for the way patients ended up in care homes.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed about 900 patients had been discharged before mandatory testing was introduced in mid April.

In an article for the Herald on Sunday, Banks, whose BCG operates 26 homes across Scotland for 940 residents, was scathing about the Government and other public authorities.

He wrote that his care home group had shielded its facilities on March 11 - twelve days before the nationwide lockdown.

“The weeks and months since have been excruciating for relatives, frustrating and confusing for residents, and hellish for our staff.

“It’s been three months of mixed messages, mismanagement and missed opportunities by the Scottish Government, and the rate of Covid-19-related care home deaths is one of the highest in Europe.”

Nicola Sturgeon

He wrote: “Our Government leaders argue that this was unchartered territory, that they have done their best, that with hindsight they may have done things differently. 

“I argue they had the power and knowledge to act much earlier to prevent the spread of this disease among our most vulnerable population.”

On patients being discharged without a covid-19 test, he wrote:

“On March 13, a number of local authorities asked us to help free up hospital beds by taking patient admissions from the NHS. We asked for the patients to be tested for Covid-19 before we took them and were told no. In at least one of our care homes we can directly attribute the first positive cases of Covid-19 to a new admission from hospital.”

Banks also claimed testing had been “promised” but not delivered:

“Apart from testing delays, there has been massive inconsistency in speed and capacity across health authorities, and a shocking lack of awareness of this at Government level.”

He said the Government strategy of protecting the NHS had been “successful”, but at the expense of hundreds of care home residents dying “before their time”.

He wrote: “I know I’m not alone in saying that private care home operators feel betrayed.”

He continued: “Eleven weeks into this pandemic, our experience of working with six different local authorities and four health authorities tells us they rarely talk to each other. Their approaches and rules differ, and some of their requirements on our homes are wholly unreasonable.”

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However, he also said that Covid-19 cases and deaths at Balhousie were less than half the industry average and recovery rates had been “remarkable”.

He wrote: “I’m convinced our swift action on closing doors and our strict policy on non-essential visits – which was only this week relaxed to include end-of-life visits – is an important factor, as are our high standards of infection control.”

The Scottish Government has been asked for a comment.