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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 03 November 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Burntisland Fabrications Ltd, Fireworks, Winter Preparedness in Social Care, Arts Funding, Decision Time, Care Homes and Covid-19 (Amnesty International Report)


Contents


Care Homes and Covid-19 (Amnesty International Report)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23029, in the name of Neil Findlay, on the Amnesty International report “As If Expendable: the UK Government’s failure to protect older people in care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern the Amnesty International report, As If Expendable, which explores what it sees as the care home crisis throughout the continuing COVID-19 pandemic; understands that the report, which focuses on care homes in England, makes a series of damning conclusions about deliberate policy decisions by the UK Government, and other bodies, that consequently threatened the human rights of older people, most specifically the right to life, the right to health and the right to non-discrimination; further understands that the report states that the policy failures by the UK Government, and other bodies, were the failure to provide adequate and good quality PPE at the beginning of the crisis, the imposition of blanket DNR orders on care home residents and older people outwith care homes, mass discharges of older people to care homes at the beginning of the crisis, many of whom were either untested or had a positive COVID-19 test result at the time of their transfer, a failure to ensure regular testing for both staff and residents, a lack of transparency around statistics pertaining to care home deaths and a failure to enable care home residents to access NHS services; believes that the policy decisions outlined in the report have caused a significant amount of unnecessary deaths among residents in care homes; considers that the pandemic, and what it sees as the deprivation of visitation, have also detrimentally impacted care home residents who have survived with, it believes, many having lost some cognitive functions and their ability to move, in addition to the impact on their mental health; further believes that, despite Amnesty International’s report focusing on the UK Government’s approach to care homes, most of the policy failures identified also occurred in Scotland, including in the Lothian region, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to implement the recommendations set out in the report, in particular the need for an urgent public inquiry into what it considers the crisis in care homes, at the earliest opportunity.

18:19  

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I declare an interest, as my mum is a resident in a care home and my wife and daughter both work in the national health service.

None of what I am about to say is a criticism of care home staff, who have worked heroically under the most intolerable pressure throughout this crisis.

The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said of the pandemic:

“Our response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people.”

When we look at how older people have been treated over the past eight months, those words have never rung more hollow.

The treatment of the people who saw us through the war and the rebuilding of our country, who built the houses we live in, the welfare state we rely on and the economy we benefit from, and who brought us into this world, cared for us and nurtured, loved and provided for us, has been nothing short of a shameful human rights violation and blatant discrimination.

The Amnesty International report “As If Expendable” is a damning critique of what happened in care homes in England. It sets out clearly that the United Kingdom Government knew that a highly infectious respiratory illness could have a massive impact on the older population if appropriate measures were not taken. The report identifies how

“The UK government, national agencies, and local-level bodies”

took

“decisions and adopted policies ... that have directly violated the human rights of older residents of care homes in England—notably their right to life ... to health, and ... to non-discrimination.”

It goes on to say that those violations

“impacted”

on their

“rights ... to private and family life, and may have violated their right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

I repeat:

“inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Although the report refers to policy decisions and practice in England, almost every issue that it raises was replicated in Scotland. Just as in England, there was a complete failure to plan for the pandemic, despite the claims that were made by the Government and its advisers. We also had major shortages of personal protective equipment for staff working on the front line. Many staff were forced to buy their own kit; we all recall schools and businesses making face shields on 3D printers, and care home staff buying stock on eBay as they desperately tried to protect themselves and their residents.

We also saw the mass discharge of patients who were previously stuck in hospital, with their families misled and given to believe that there was no care home place or care-at-home package for them. They were shipped out of hospital overnight to clear beds for Covid patients; 3,600 patients were discharged in March and April alone. Those patients were not individually risk assessed prior to discharge, and the care homes to which they were sent were not risk assessed to determine whether they could cope. Care home managers have said that they felt pressured into taking patients for whom they were unprepared.

We know that 82 per cent of those patients were discharged untested, in keeping with the guidance from the Scottish Government. No one knows how many of them had Covid, which then spread through the care home sector. However, we know that 338 patients were sent to care homes following a positive test—that was a deliberate and informed decision.

We know that staff were not tested either. On BBC Scotland’s “Disclosure” programme, a carer named Angela said:

“It was the middle of April before staff were finally tested. Three of us were positive. God knows how long we’d been infectious for. By the time I got back to work a fortnight later, more than 20 of our residents had died.”

What a way to treat care home staff, who are among the greatest heroes of this crisis. At the time, the First Minister told us:

“To be blunt, based on what I have been told, the UK, and Scotland within it, probably has the greatest testing capacity of any country in the world proportionately, per head of population”.—[Official Report, 24 March 2020; c 28.]

That statement bears no relation to reality: we are still not testing care-at-home staff, nor are we routinely testing all NHS staff, not even those whose wards contain Covid-positive patients—they have still not been tested.

There is no MSP who has not been told by families of care home residents that their family member was ill and denied access to hospital for treatment at a time when many hospital wards were well below capacity and the Louisa Jordan hospital lay empty. On that issue, Angela—the carer I referred to earlier—said:

“We had 22 residents die in three weeks and none of them had gone into hospital. It was like there had been a directive from somewhere. It was so upsetting. I don’t know if any of them would have survived if they’d gone into hospital, but none of them got the chance. It was like they were just written off.”

Many were never tested, had no visits from a general practitioner and were denied access to hospital treatment in their time of need. It was a policy that was hidden behind the guise of clinical decision making.

As in England, there was the abuse and misuse of do not attempt resuscitation orders, with patients pressured into agreeing to them and families often finding paperwork at the bottom of a hospital drawer or in a bag of washing to be taken home. Today, Age Scotland advised me that its call centre was inundated with calls about that issue.

That all happened in Scotland as well as in England. If it also happened in Wales and Northern Ireland, my criticisms are just as strongly levied at the Administrations there. However, the highest proportion of care homes deaths in the United Kingdom were in Scotland. As Amnesty says, it was as if our older people were expendable. It was as if those in power decided that our mums, dads, grandparents and older friends would be collateral damage in the fight against Covid.

It is for those reasons and many more that I agree 100 per cent with Amnesty that a full independent public inquiry into the UK Government’s handling of the crisis should begin now. The Scottish inquiry must also begin without delay and without any more time being wasted.

How many times have we heard politicians and policy makers mouth words about judging a society by the way that it treats its most vulnerable citizens? The average age of people discharged from hospital to care homes is 81. Many of them have multiple health conditions and some have dementia; they are some of our most vulnerable and needy citizens. They have clearly been subjected to age discrimination—age being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and the public sector equality duty. Their human rights have been violated and they have been exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment. If our society is judged on that, we should all hang our heads in shame.

18:28  

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

The Covid-19 pandemic is, without doubt, the most serious public health crisis that any of us has faced during our lifetime. Its impact on care homes around the world has been devastating. I convey my condolences to all those who have lost a loved one to the novel coronavirus and, especially, to those whose loved one was a resident in a care home, as is true for so many of us.

I extend my gratitude to front-line care home staff for their compassionate and tireless work during the pandemic. I received a graphic reminder of their work when my niece, who works in a care home in north Wales, told me about sitting with an elderly patient as she passed away from coronavirus and, the next day, being spat at and shouted at by residents’ relatives when they were told that they could not visit their loved ones. My niece was even told by someone that they hoped that she would die from Covid-19. The staff have had a terrible time of it throughout the pandemic.

Like many of my colleagues, I am concerned about the findings of Amnesty International’s “As If Expendable” report, according to which the human rights of older residents in England’s care homes have been “violated” during the pandemic. Sadly, the report suggests that “key policies and decisions” of the UK Government have caused a high number of unnecessary deaths and directly impacted people’s

“rights to life, to health, to non-discrimination, to private and family life and to not be subjected to inhuman treatment”,

among other human rights.

The report concludes that the discharge of 25,000 hospital patients to care homes in March and April “exponentially” increased

“the risk of transmission to the very population most at risk of severe illness and death from the disease.”

Considering the damning findings of the Amnesty International report, I believe that the least the Prime Minister ought to do now is follow the recommendations that the report sets out and urgently launch the independent public inquiry that he promised the English people earlier this year. [Interruption.] I will not take an intervention, as I have only four minutes.

A public inquiry will present an opportunity to analyse and rectify the key issues that have negatively affected the rights of older and vulnerable people in care homes in England.

I will not use a report about English care homes to have a go at the Scottish Government, but it is important that we acknowledge the situation in Scotland. For that reason, I am grateful that, as early as August, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport had already commissioned a Public Health Scotland report on discharges from NHS hospitals to care homes during the first coronavirus wave in Scotland. We owe it to residents, families and staff to have accurate data and independent analysis on the transfer of patients to care homes and the impact that that had.

I am relieved that the resulting PHS report, “Discharges from NHS Scotland Hospitals to Care Homes between 1 March and 31 May 2020”, states that it

“does not find statistical evidence that hospital discharges of any kind were associated with care home outbreaks”

in Scotland. Indeed, it goes on to say:

“After accounting for care home size and other ... characteristics”,

detailed statistical modelling found that

“the estimated risk of an outbreak”

was

“not statistically significant.”

Nonetheless, we have to accept that, as in all other countries, some mistakes were made in the handling of this unprecedented crisis in Scotland. The PHS report finds, for instance, that guidance according to which two negative tests were required before discharge to care homes was not implemented consistently enough in late April and May. The First Minister therefore rightly emphasised in her speech last week that the PHS findings will be

“of no comfort ... to those who lost a loved one”

in a care home during the pandemic and that the findings do not

“take away ... from the duty of government ... to learn and apply lessons.”

It is commendable that the First Minister, unlike the UK Prime Minister, has never shied away from accepting responsibility for the decisions that her Government took at any stage of this devastating pandemic. I am therefore confident that, as we go through the second wave of the crisis, she and her Cabinet will continue to show responsible leadership and do their utmost to protect the people of Scotland from this deadly virus.

I am particularly pleased that the Scottish Government has already shown its willingness to take forward the recommendations that are set out in the PHS report and has committed to continuously adapt its guidance in order to protect care home staff and residents in accordance with the latest data, clinical advice and scientific evidence. I have no doubt that the Scottish Government will closely analyse Amnesty International’s report on the UK Government’s handling of the crisis and implement in Scotland, wherever it makes sense to do so, the recommendations that that report sets out.

18:32  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Neil Findlay for bringing to the chamber this debate on a topic that cannot be brought to the public’s attention too many times. Like Mr Findlay, I thank the incredible staff and carers who have looked after our most vulnerable in such difficult times with such dedication and professionalism. There are so many stories of compassion, and it is important that, when we have these debates, we always caveat our comments by acknowledging the debt that we owe our care staff and NHS staff.

We recognise that the Amnesty International report “As If Expendable” focuses on the shortcomings of policy decisions that were made by the UK Government in the English care system. In no way should any of us shy away from that or try to lessen the questions that will have to be answered by those who made those choices and decisions.

However, we cannot allow the Scottish Government to hide behind the fact that this particular report pertains to England, because all the indicators in Scotland are just as bad, if not worse in some instances. Tonight’s debate cannot be about a Scottish Government trying to wriggle off the hook by saying, “We’re not as bad as them” on this or that. Let us be clear—I can hear a learned gentleman shouting from a seated position—that all Government responses in the UK have been seriously flawed. This is no time to hide behind party loyalty. Nonetheless, it is our job in this place to scrutinise the questions and question the Scottish Government’s decisions.

I am continually raising the care home crisis with the Scottish Government on behalf of my constituents. Hardly a day goes by without care homes being the subject of emails and phone calls to my office. It seems increasingly clear to me that there has been mistake after mistake in handling the matter of the most vulnerable in our society.

In Scotland, there have been 2,017 tragic deaths from Covid in care homes since the start of the pandemic—that amounts to some 45 per cent of care home deaths. A Public Health Scotland report revealed that more than 113 patients were sent to care homes despite testing positive for Covid and that some 3,061 patients were discharged into care homes without being tested.

Right at the start of the crisis, it was acknowledged and accepted that mistakes would be made. The main—and recurring—issue is the Scottish Government’s continual attempts to hide from the truth and from simple parliamentary questions. We might take, for example, the simple question, “When did you know that Covid-positive patients or patients who had not had a test were being transferred into care homes?” How many times has that question gone unanswered in the chamber? Had it been answered the first time with a degree of honesty, it would not have been the issue that it has now become.

To my mind, there has always been a question around our initial response. We watched as the virus began in China and moved across the world and across Europe towards us, with a devastating effect, especially on the most vulnerable, in countries such as Italy, Spain and France, and yet we were still caught unprepared. I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport that very question, and her response was to say, “We did the same as the rest.” Why did she do the same as the rest? What different outcome did she expect? The wise learn from their mistakes, and the truly wise learn from other people’s mistakes. We should have been able to protect our most vulnerable better than we did.

As an aside, we need at some point—at another time, in another debate—to get into the issue of the role that data collection and analysis must play, because we have fallen woefully short in that department. That could be a real game changer as we move forward.

As I said, it was accepted that mistakes would be made and that advice would be ever changing as we learned more about the virus. Nevertheless, keeping Parliament away from undertaking effective scrutiny has served only to raise Parliament’s suspicions. The Scottish Government has asked for our support, so it must be straight with members and own its mistakes. If it had done so, it would have found that members were more able to support it. We would have been more open to discussion and there would have been more input from members on all sides of the chamber, and we would perhaps have been in a better place. Too often, party politics has meant that suspicion from the Scottish Government has prevented openness and collaboration.

The virus is not going away, despite what many thought might have happened by now. The response around the world, including from the Scottish Government, has been far less sophisticated that it should have been by now. It is time to take a breath. We will get the opportunity to rake over the coals when we are on the other side of the pandemic.

We all recognise that terribly difficult decisions have been placed in front of Government. Nevertheless, the Amnesty report calls into question the response south of the border, and the UK Government will have to own and answer to that. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government must own its poor decisions and mistakes, and it must map out a more cohesive way out of this crisis in which we can all have confidence.

18:38  

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Neil Findlay for bringing this vital issue to the chamber and for his powerful speech tonight. I also thank Amnesty International for compiling the report “As If Expendable”.

What has happened to many care home residents during the pandemic has shocked and horrified people in Scotland and around the world. Behind the statistics on how many social care staff are being tested, how many patients have been discharged from hospital to care homes, tested or otherwise, and the overall level of care home deaths are the heartbreaking realities of lives torn apart and families separated by this awful pandemic. As always, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones to Covid during this year.

Locally, I have been in touch with dozens of families who have been affected by a care home outbreak. One of my constituents lost a grandparent to Covid-19 at Whitehills care home in East Kilbride, which suffered a significant outbreak earlier this year—more than 23 residents died in the first wave.

Some of the families to which I have spoken have put it better that I ever could. In response to the Public Health Scotland report that we have talked about a lot in Parliament, one constituent told me:

“The simple fact that they admitted patients from hospital into care homes during this time, either tested or untested—common sense should have prevailed and we have no doubt this put my gran at greater risk of being exposed to the virus. It’s unbelievable this was allowed to happen—we trusted the management team when they told us my gran was in the safest place—and had we known this practice was taking place we would have 100% taken steps to have her home with us—she was vulnerable and she should have been protected—we are heartbroken and feel very let down—our gran wasn’t just a number and did not deserve to die in this way.”

No one deserves to die in that way.

When I asked NHS Lanarkshire to provide details under freedom of information legislation to confirm or rule out that untested Covid-19 patients had been discharged from hospitals to care homes that had had an outbreak, the answer was that the request was “manifestly unreasonable”. I still have not had an answer. I hope that the Minister for Older People and Equalities will say whether she agrees that that request was not manifestly unreasonable, because families want the answers.

The Scottish Government needs to be more transparent about its treatment of social care. We have heard about the Public Health Scotland report that was published last week. What we heard from the First Minister is not the last word on that—it should not be, and she has admitted that herself. Like others, I strongly believe that, at the very least, the preliminary work for the public inquiry needs to get under way, so that the Parliament can work with ministers to work out the terms of reference, who will lead the inquiry and what data needs to be gathered. People who have lost loved ones—relatives in their 80s and 90s—have told me that it might be too late for them to contribute in a year’s time. They want to feed into the process now.

On how we arrived at this point, it is worth mentioning that all Governments plan for pandemics. In Scotland, we had Silver Swan, and at the UK level there was Cygnus. In 2016, Dr Gregor Smith led a review of Silver Swan, and delegates at a conference at the Tulliallan police college warned that staff shortages would be a major problem in a pandemic. In the report, care homes get just a single mention, in passing, which is not good enough. It cannot happen again. The Cygnus report on the UK-wide planning exercise warned of the dangers of moving hospital patients to care homes during an outbreak, and that has not been properly addressed. The warning bells were being rung back in 2016.

In March 2020, once the pandemic had started, GMB Scotland wrote to the First Minister, calling for a national care plan. We did not get one. I welcome the fact that the Government has published an adult social care winter preparedness plan, but it has taken a long time to get there.

I have also called for an older people’s commissioner. We need such a commissioner. We cannot change the past, but we must build a future in which the rights of our oldest citizens are respected and upheld, starting now.

18:43  

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I thank Neil Findlay for bringing this important subject to the Parliament. The motion in Mr Findlay’s name, which I was pleased to support, highlights Amnesty International’s report, which has the grim title “As If Expendable”. It is a fitting title for a report that makes for grim reading. The report is dated 4 October and opens:

“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on older persons living in care homes in England.”

It goes on to say that more than 18,500 care home residents died in the first three months—the figure is 18,562. Members are only too well aware that, as Brian Whittle mentioned, 2,017 people have died in Scotland’s care homes. We have discussed the impact of discharge from hospitals to care homes of patients who are possibly infected with Covid, which is clearly an issue of great concern.

In its report, Amnesty notes:

“The UK government, national agencies, and local-level bodies have taken decisions and adopted policies during the COVID-19 pandemic that have directly violated the human rights of older residents of care homes in England—notably their right to life, their right to health, and their right to non-discrimination.”

The UK must look at that report and must learn from it.

Neil Findlay

Will Alison Johnstone join me in encouraging Amnesty Scotland to do a similar report on what happened here?

Alison Johnstone

I certainly will. That would be useful, helpful and very welcome.

The failure to ensure regular testing of care home workers and residents has certainly been raised by me, my party and others. On 24 April, I wrote to the cabinet secretary, asking for routine testing for hospital and care workers. I welcome the fact that the Government announced on 25 May that that would be introduced, but that was four weeks in which potentially asymptomatic and contagious workers could have carried the virus. I know that that was an issue of great concern to care workers.

Colleagues have made the point that this debate in no way diminishes or reduces our respect. Care workers have gone the extra mile and have delivered a lot of care for many people at a time of national emergency.

We have to look at the fact that care is delivered through a profit-driven commercial system. In my view, care is not a business, it is a right. We are considering workers who have been underpaid and undervalued for a long time. They should not be working for peanuts or for profits; they should be allowed to do the best job that they can because they have been invested in, trained properly and paid properly.

We are all very well aware that the gender pay gap is impacted negatively by the care sector. Care is predominantly delivered by women, and they do not have the support and recognition that they deserve. I hope that, if anything, the pandemic goes some way to changing that.

Monica Lennon spoke about the Silver Swan and Cygnus exercises, which were simulation exercises to estimate the impacts of a pandemic—I think that they looked at influenza pandemics. It became only too apparent that there were gaps in the provision of PPE, ventilators, critical care beds and staff. Therefore, what has happened should not have come as a surprise, but we have very much been caught on the back foot.

I appreciate that I am out of time.

Working together more to ensure dignity and respect for all those who live and work in our care homes is well and truly at the top of the agenda now. We have to work together to address those issues, and we have to work to properly integrate health and social care, because they do not yet have parity of esteem and they are not properly integrated. We need to examine those issues as quickly as possible, and we need to ensure the effective participation of care home residents, their families and bereaved families.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Members will note that I have let people speak over their time in this important debate.

18:48  

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

I thank everyone for their heartfelt contributions to the debate, which I am sure we all agree is an incredibly important one.

We have heard many accounts of the devastating impact of the global pandemic on our care home sector. At the outset, I express my deepest sympathy to all those who have lost loved ones. Like other members, I thank care home staff for the work that they do every day to care for the people whom we love.

It is clear from the debate and from Amnesty International’s report that it is important that we look back and learn from the early experiences of the pandemic. However, it is also important that we look forward and act on that learning. There have been calls for that today in all the speeches.

As I look back, I see that we have taken firm action from the outset to support care homes and protect the wellbeing of those who work and live in them. We have put in place a wide range of support for care homes, including by expanding and strengthening PPE supplies for providers, by regularly testing care home staff, by ensuring local oversight by the NHS and local authorities, and by equipping the Care Inspectorate to carry out an enhanced assistance role.

Since 22 April, we have been testing all people who have been admitted to care homes. We have put in place robust weekly testing, and we have plans to extend testing to families, visitors and professional and other care home staff.

We continue to provide funding across health and care services to meet the additional costs of responding to Covid-19 and to support service remobilisation. On 29 September, the health secretary announced funding of £1.1 billion across NHS boards and integration authorities to meet costs arising from the response to the pandemic. We have also allocated a total of £150 million for social care as part of our additional Covid funding this year, and we have provided £1.16 million for local and national organisations that have been supporting older people through initiatives including helplines, food deliveries and friendship services.

As has been highlighted, it is important that we learn lessons from the pandemic. In commenting on the UK Government’s handling of the crisis in care homes, Amnesty International calls for a public inquiry. As members know, the First Minister has committed to such an inquiry. It is right and proper that decisions taken during the pandemic face scrutiny in the fullness of time. All parts of the system will want to reflect and learn lessons. As Keith Brown said, we are continuously learning and adapting our guidance.

Monica Lennon asked about a specific issue that she is having with NHS Lanarkshire. I am happy to investigate that with health colleagues and get back to her, because I do not have the details to hand right now.

Monica Lennon

I am grateful to the minister for her offer. NHS Lanarkshire said that one of the reasons why it cannot compile the information is that staff are very busy and they would have to go into individual files. My colleague Neil Findlay has been having trouble getting responses to freedom of information requests because of the costs, and we have people who are willing to crowdfund to pay for those documents. Could the minister convene cross-party talks on that? We are all putting in FOI requests and we do not want to bog down the system, but people desperately need answers.

Christina McKelvie

That inquiry is fair enough. I will need to take the matter up with health colleagues to find out the details, but I hear what Monica Lennon is saying about not bogging down a system that is already under pressure. I am sure that health staff will appreciate that. I will get the information and will let Monica Lennon know about that.

Alison Johnstone and others talked about the things that we need to do—how we need to support the system to look after people. In that vein, we have commissioned an independent review of adult social care in Scotland, which will report in January. The review will look at how social care is to be planned, funded and delivered in the future. As a former social care training officer, I see the real benefit in having that happen.

Neil Findlay

Will the minister take an intervention?

Christina McKelvie

I know that that review is about the future—

Neil Findlay

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It had better be a point of order, Mr Findlay, and not simply an intervention.

Neil Findlay

In my 10 years in Parliament, I have never attended a members’ business debate in which the minister who is responding will not take an intervention from the person who proposed the debate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is not a point of order, Mr Findlay.

Neil Findlay

It is outrageous—that is what it is.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please sit down, Mr Findlay.

Neil Findlay

It is shameful.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Findlay, do not abuse points of order with me. You know perfectly well that it is for the minister to decide whether to take an intervention, whether from you or from anybody else. Do not do it—[Interruption.]—and please do not keep talking while I am telling you something.

Christina McKelvie

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I have a lot to get through if I am to answer lots of Neil Findlay’s points, and I will continue to do that.

We have been talking about the future, but we also need to take action now. That is why, earlier today, the cabinet secretary—as we heard—published our adult social care winter plan for 2020-21. Using the learning from the pandemic, the plan sets out measures to offer maximum protection for users of adult social care during the remainder of the pandemic and the winter. The plan will be supported by further funding of £112 million for social care on top of the additional £150 million, making £262 million in total this year. That will help providers to meet the additional costs of responding to Covid-19. The plan confirms our intention to extend the testing of groups of health and social care staff who visit care homes, of care home visitors and of home care staff.

The Amnesty International report highlights the importance of supporting mental wellbeing and quality of life. Wellbeing is a key priority in the plan, which is why we are looking at what more we can do to open up further visitor options to enable families and friends to connect with their loved ones. We will work with partners to support consistent adoption of guidance and ensure that residents’ human rights are fully respected and fulfilled. I know how important those connections are to tackling social isolation and loneliness. I lead the work in the Government on our connecting Scotland strategy, and on Thursday I will meet the national implementation group for that strategy.

It is important that we continue to consider the needs of the families and friends of loved ones in care homes. I have met members of the care home relatives’ group and others who have helped to enhance the most recent update to our visiting guidance. I confirm that a website will be launched soon, which will have information on visiting for families and friends. I am incredibly grateful to the families who help us to develop our visiting policy, which is about not just time but the more important issue of human connection, which is something that I think we have all missed during the pandemic—a touch, holding a hand, a hug or even a kiss.

I thank the member for securing the debate. The pandemic is far from over, and lessons have, indeed, been learned. Most importantly, supporting the care home sector will continue to require the collective actions of all of us, all the time. As we take those actions, we must continue to listen to the lived experience of people whose lives are impacted by the pandemic.

An issue that Monica Lennon brought up in her speech was the idea of an older people’s commissioner. There will be a time for broader consideration of such a commissioner, and it is something that members should explore. Whether or not the ideas they come up with suggest the need for a commissioner, I look forward to hearing those ideas.

As I have said many times, getting older is a privilege that is not afforded to us all. We must celebrate our older people for the love, experience and knowledge that they give us. That includes ensuring that they are able to live their lives with dignity, supported by quality care and compassion. As the Minister for Older People and Equalities, I am committed, along with my ministerial colleagues, to doing just that.

Meeting closed at 18:56.