Calls for public ownership of care homes have been made after figures showed covid-19 infection rates are higher in the private sector.

Nearly 70% of private care homes have had suspected coronavirus cases, but only 38% in the voluntary and not for profit establishments.

A growing number of politicians believe a national care service, along the lines of the NHS, is overdue.

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Angela Constance

The coronavirus death toll in care homes is one of the biggest scandals of the pandemic.

According to the National Records of Scotland, nearly half of the 3379 deaths recorded so far took place in care homes.

A lack of PPE for staff and residents was a major cause of the problems, but so was moving patients from hospitals to care homes without testing them.

Jeane Freeman recently confirmed that nearly 1000 patients had been discharged before mandatory testing was introduced in mid April.

However, others believe the problems in the care industry, such as low pay and underfunding, pre-date the pandemic.

Official figures provide a breakdown of adult care homes with suspected covid-19 cases.

As of May 21st, the number stood at 38% for the voluntary sector, 57% for publicly-run care homes, and 69% for private facilities.

The private sector also came out worse, but only slightly, for the number of potential coronavirus cases per 1,000 registered places.

In May, the Care Inspectorate identified “serious and significant” concerns about the quality of care provided by Home Farm Care Home in Skye, which is owned by the private HC-One.

Richard Leonard

The firm has previously said a total of 207 residents had died in its Scottish facilities.

At the Whitehills care home in East Kilbride - operated by Thistle Healthcare - over 20 residents have passed away.

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated a public inquiry will examine the failings of the last three months, but senior MSPs want a radical shake-up of the sector.

SNP MSP Angela Constance, who used to be Education Secretary, said:

“I am in support of the establishment of a National Care Service that is on a par with our National Health Service with a focus on not for profit care.

“I do not want care services run like hospitals with councils cut out of the loop, but I want a clear national plan and infrastructure that builds services around the everyday needs of people in their own homes or in their own community, with clear lines of accountability and redress.

She added: “This pandemic has shone a light on serious concerns about some private care homes and while I would not want to tar all private providers with the same brush, profiteering at the expense of care cannot be tolerated.”

“My concern, given how some large private care providers operate, is that millions of pounds of public money is taken from the care sector into the financial sector.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Care homes and those that work and live in them have been at the epicentre of the pandemic in Scotland but all too often both residents and staff have been let down and put in danger.

“It is clear that mixed messages from the Scottish Government and the ill-advised rush to end delayed discharge have fanned the flames of the virus in care homes.

“After this pandemic we will need to see a radical shake-up of the care sector in which a greater level of government control and accountability must emerge for the benefit of workers and residents. That’s why Scottish Labour wants to see a Scottish Care Service established.”

Gary Smith, whose GMB trade union represents care workers, said of the figures:

“This shows that we needed a plan for the entire social care sector from the outset of the crisis, that’s why we urged the First Minister to create one, and that we desperately still do.

“How could government ignore the fact that workers in the public sector had their jobs, pay and conditions secure from the outset but workers in the private sector did not? Ministers knew that private care workers would be left destitute on statutory sick pay if they fell ill or had to isolate.”

However, care home boss Robert Kilgour believes the private sector is being set up as the fall guy: “I would actually welcome a review of the social care sector if it was to be a proper review. If it is to be a kangaroo court to beat up the independent sector, and blame it for all the mistakes, then no.

“I fear the Scottish Government’s plan is to blame the independent care home sector for all ills and look to increase the amount of local authority provision.”

Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents private care homes, said of the stats:

“As we continue to learn about the virus, it is too early to make assumptions or deduce reasons for variations in terms of infection and death rates in different areas and settings. In all likelihood, a range of factors will contribute to these differences and it will be important for us all to fully explore, understand and learn from these in reviews of the pandemic response.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government spokesman said: “Prior to Covid-19, we had started to look at ways to improve care home sustainability as part of our adult social care reform programme.

“We will learn from the pandemic to identify what that means for the future of care home provision including how it is organised, funded, regulated and the impact of the size of care homes on infection control.”