Crown Office investigates south of Scotland care home deaths

  • Video report by Greg Hoare

The deaths of dozens of care home residents in the south of Scotland are being investigated by the country's prosecution service.

The Crown Office has confirmed to Representing Border it is looking into deaths involving Covid-19 at:

  • Saltgreens in Eyemouth - 7 deaths

  • Deanfield in Hawick - 1 death

  • Charnwood Lodge in Dumfries - 8 deaths

  • Thorney Croft in Stranraer - 11 deaths

  • Alma McFadyen Care Centre in Dalbeattie - 8 deaths

  • Fleet Valley Care Home in Gateshouse of Fleet - 5 deaths

Last year a dedicated Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team was set up to "make informed decisions about whether further investigation is required". 

In some circumstances the probe could lead to a fatal accident inquiry, or criminal prosecution. 

Saltgreens Care Home Credit: ITV Border

ITV Border has asked the Crown Office whether any other care homes in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders are being investigated, and has not yet received a response.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway said it will play a "fully supportive role in the national review".

The investigation has been welcomed by some of the relatives of those who lost their lives, including David Dougal. His wife Grace was a resident at Saltgreens care home in Eyemouth.

Remembering her, David said "She'd go to the ends of the earth to get things done and help people, and she was happy till the day she died."

He told Representing Border he was pleased an investigation was taking place, but felt it should focus on decisions made by the Scottish Government and senior healthcare figures, rather than individual care homes. 

The Chief Executive of Scottish Care, an industry group representing private care homes, says the investigation is "frightening" for frontline care workers.

Dr Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive of Scottish Care. Credit: ITV News

Dr Donald Macaskill agrees an inquiry is needed, but says piling extra paperwork and pressure on staff who are in the midst of battling the pandemic is "disproportionate", and is causing some workers to quit the industry.

"We know for certain that one of the reasons why frontline carers and frontline managers are leaving is because of the stigma, the blame, which they believe is being cast upon them."

The investigation was ordered by the Lord Advocate, a member of the Scottish Government, which has itself faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic. 

Initially most hospital patients who were discharged to care homes across Scotland weren't tested, but on the 21st of April 2020, ministers decided all patients had to have two negative tests before discharge. 

ITV Border submitted Freedom of Information requests to both of the south of Scotland's health boards, and discovered this was not always the case.

NHS Borders initially declined to provide the information, but after we challenged that decision, they told us between the 22nd of April and 31st of May four patients were discharged to care homes without being tested. Of the 55 who were tested, seven had coronavirus.

Five were retested and transferred after negative results, but the other two patients with covid-19 were sent back to their care homes without a negative test.

The health board says this was in their best interests, and only after careful clinical guidance.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway transferred 3 patients who had not been tested. Of the 61 who had, 3 were positive, but all of them had a negative retest before discharge.

David Dougal believes coronavirus spread at Saltgreens after hospital patients with the virus were transferred into the home. 

NHS Borders told us they could not say whether this had happened, because of patient confidentiality. 

The Scottish Government has pledged to hold an inquiry into its handling of the pandemic in care homes. 

On Wednesday (3rd February) a report recommended it sets up an NHS-style National Care Service, something ministers are considering. 

 For now though David, and many other relatives of those who died in care homes, have no answers, just memories.