Scotland's Covid-19 care home death toll overtakes hospitals since pandemic started

Simon Johnson
Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon reacts as she attends First Ministers Questions at Holyrood - Getty Images Europe

Scotland's coronavirus death toll in care homes has overtaken that in hospitals since the pandemic started, official figures have disclosed as Nicola Sturgeon was accused of failing the institutions "all over again."

National Records of Scotland (NRS) statistics showed there have been 1,818 deaths in care homes when Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, three more than in hospitals since the outbreak started at the end of February.

Overall, 46 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in Scotland have now occurred in care homes compared to around 29 per cent in England and Wales.  Almost two-thirds of deaths south of the Border have occurred in hospitals.

The grim landmark was passed as the Tories said Ms Sturgeon's government was falling "woefully short" of meeting its pledge to regularly test all care home staff.

Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Tory leader, said 7,000 tests a day would be required to cover all care home workers every week but far fewer were being conducted across Scotland's entire population.

Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, told MSPs there was a "consistent disconnect between parliamentary pronouncements and the reality” after citing evidence that care workers are still being refused testing.

Their attack came after the Telegraph disclosed a new Oxford University analysis showing Scotland is testing fewer people per head than the other home nations and many countries on the Continent.

It also emerged that more than 1,300 hospital patients were sent to care homes before mandatory testing was introduced on April 21.

Testing was introduced for new care home admissions in England six days earlier. Ms Sturgeon has previously appeared to accept that transferring hundreds of untested patients out of hospitals into care homes contributed to Scotland's huge coronavirus death toll in the institutions.

The First Minister said last week that with the benefit of hindsight she would “come to a different conclusion” about moving so many vulnerable people without testing them for the virus.

However, she has insisted there was no "risk-free alternative course of action" as keeping them in hospital could also have meant them getting the virus.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw -  Getty Images Europe

The latest NRS figures said 3,911 people in Scotland had died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as of May 31, including 131 last week. This was a drop of 99 compared to the previous week.

The number of care home deaths declined by 56 to 68 but they still represented more than half (52 per cent) of all Covid-19 deaths last week.

But only 4,791 tests were carried out on Tuesday this week, despite there being capacity for 15,500 and the Scottish Government's pledge to regularly test all care home workers.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Mr Carlaw said: "The tragedy is this, Scotland has the capacity to test. "Indeed, if you had used that capacity effectively since the end of April, you could have tested all the residents and staff at care homes twice.

"Instead capacity is being squandered and care home workers and residents, who have already endured the horror of this crisis, are being let down all over again."

Mr Carlaw said only 56 per cent of the 1,150 Renaissance Care staff employed at its 14 homes had ever been tested. Of those who have been, seven per cent had coronavirus but no symptoms.

Mr Leonard said he was contacted by a care worker in South Lanarkshire three weeks ago who has still not been tested despite repeated requests.

He said NHS Lanarkshire informed him that it is still “working through the operational implications of the recent Scottish Government announcement on testing of all care home staff on a weekly basis”.

Ms Sturgeon insisted that "the programme of regular and routine care home staff testing is underway" and noted that deaths in the institutions are now "declining quite rapidly."

She argued that demand for testing was falling in line with "the prevalence of the virus in the community" and insisted her government's guidance to care homes has been "consistent" with that issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

However, WHO guidance issued on March 21 said residents with Covid-19 should be isolated until the symptoms have disappeared and two negative laboratory tests have been taken.