On tonight at 10.45pm, BBC Scotland’s troubled Disclosure series investigates the deaths in Scottish care homes. Based on this quite extensive (1 400 words) taster on the website it seems there will be several fundamental flaws.
First, the methodology is a big problem. Only 3 out of Scotland’s more than 1 100 care homes feature in a study based heavily on anecdotal evidence from only 3 relatives. We are not told how these 3 were selected. The shadow of Labour’s Monica Lennon is there in the background as a likely source.
Second, all 3 care homes were privately owned yet little is made of this and there is no discussion of why state-owned or voluntary sector homes do not feature in their sample.
Third and perhaps most important if they wanted to answer their own question, why is the role of agency staff travelling between sites not considered despite the evidence of this already in the public domain.
‘Staff sickness hit nursing home care’ is the first sub-heading, and presumably answer, in the report yet there is no investigation into the possibility that this was especially a problem for the private homes which form their only sample and what effect their consequent reliance on often far-travelled agency staff may have had.
We know from BBC Scotland’s own report that the Skye care home outbreak was associated with ‘a large dependency on agency staff‘:
Indeed, their own former Head of News, John Boothman, now at the Times, wrote:
HC-One, Britain’s largest care home chain and the operator of Home Farm, faces allegations that it paid insufficient heed to the [Scottish] government’s lockdown by parachuting workers in from as far away as Kent, 645 miles away, to plug staff shortages in a sector where pay is notoriously poor.
That’s just one case but an ONS study of 9 081 care homes in England found this:
These emerging findings reveal some common factors in care homes with higher levels of infections amongst residents.These include prevalence of infection in staff, some care home practices such as more frequent use of bank or agency nurses or carers, and some regional differences (such as higher infection levels within care homes in London and the West Midlands). There is some evidence that in care homes where staff receive sick pay, there are lower levels of infection in residents.
Finally, ‘Discharges from hospital into care homes with Covid’ is the second sub-heading in the BBC Scotland report. Though they present one case as evidence, there is no reliable evidence published, suggesting that those discharged spread the virus into the care homes or that they were discharged into care homes which did not already have decades of experience of infection control and should have known what to do.
So, once more, Disclosure Scotland lets us down, lets the BBC down but doesn’t really let itself down, after serial failure over the last few years to do anything properly.