According to industry leaders, about half of Scotland’s private nursing homes suspect cases of coronavirus.
The commercial agency Scottish Care said the impact of the virus on residents and staff absence levels of up to 30% had put the houses under severe strain.
Concerns have been expressed about the number of deaths and the adequate protective equipment in nursing homes.
Fears have also been expressed about a “zip code lottery” over testing caregivers and residents.
Scottish Care members provide the vast majority of the 36,000 nursing beds in Scotland, the Director General, Dr Donald Macaskill, saying that the virus has left the industry facing an “unprecedented challenge on all fronts”.
The epidemic has killed several residents in nursing homes in Dumbarton, North Lanarkshire and Tranent in recent weeks.
And information Scottish Care has gathered from its members suggests that about half of nursing homes in Scotland have at least one suspected case of coronavirus.
Dr. Macaskill said the concerns about home deaths are understandable, but should be seen in context and treated with caution.
He said, “80% of people in nursing homes are there for aftercare. This is a place where there are, unfortunately, frequent deaths and we have seen that older people are generally more vulnerable to the virus. “
Why are there no official figures?
There is an official count of the number of suspected coronavirus cases in nursing homes, but it could take up to three months before its publication.
The Nursing Inspectorate asked all nursing homes to notify them when they have a suspected case of coronavirus or when a resident dies of the virus, and to keep them informed of staff shortages.
However, the taxpayer-funded watchdog refuses to release the data across Scotland at the height of the crisis.
Instead, BBC Scotland has been informed that its request for data is treated as an access to information request, which under emergency coronavirus laws means that care inspection has three months to respond.
The watchdog says it’s because of concerns about the “robustness of the data” from nursing homes.
Despite these concerns, the same data is shared with councils, health boards and the Scottish government to help them “provide support in areas of partnership and at national level”.
Robert Kilgour, owner of Renaissance Care, which has 14 nursing homes in Scotland and around 1,100 employees, said he suspected coronavirus cases in about half of its facilities.
The firm has had three confirmed cases, including two in which people have died, but “without access to appropriate tests”, he is not sure of the full extent of the virus among staff and residents.
He said: “Testing seems to be a big problem right now, but in our experience there is a postal code lottery where testing in some parts of the country is good and some in none.
“These are tough times, the NHS is vitally important, but we must remember that a collapse in the social care sector would also spell disaster for health services. “
Kilgour said his business operates with an absence rate of about 15%, but those who can come to work excel.
He explained: “The response from the staff was simply incredible, a true Dunkirk spirit.
“For many of them, the residents and their colleagues are like a second family and they continue to defend them.
“I have had reports that a number of employees have moved into nursing homes to protect their own families and allow them to continue working. “
The Scottish government has issued new guidelines on personal protective equipment for carers and health councils have been asked to prioritize testing to allow health and welfare workers to return to work.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has said that protecting front-line workers is “a top priority” for the Scottish government.
What does the lockout mean for residents?
Experts have warned that the virus has left many residents of nursing homes struggling to cope with the collapse of their social networks.
Family visits and activities in most homes have been suspended, with many residents also being isolated in their rooms as a precaution against the virus.
Professor Adam Gordon of the British Geriatrics Society, who specializes in how health care is delivered in nursing homes, said, “We have to remember that a nursing home is a community so that a resident can socialize with other residents, staff and of course family visits.
“Overnight, this routine disappeared or was seriously disrupted.
“So for people with memory problems it’s a very difficult time right now, especially if they don’t understand the world at large.
“We know that loneliness and social isolation can lead to poorer outcomes for older adults and this is a real concern given the likely length of isolation. “
Scottish government figures show that around 60% of adults in nursing homes suffer from some form of dementia and Scottish Care’s Dr Macaskill said the foreclosure measures had a “profound impact” on residents and staff members who were trying to keep morale high.
He said, “People just need to think about how their own lives have been affected and then consider the break in routine that it has for someone in a care home, possibly with dementia. . “
One positive point was a Scottish Care campaign to increase the use of tablets or cellphones to connect residents with friends and families.
“We have made wonderful donations of equipment. It’s not for everyone, but there have been many comforting examples of people using technology to try to fill this gap, “said Dr. Macaskill.