Crown Office investigating more than 3,400 care home deaths linked to COVID
The Crown Office is probing at least 3,400 Scottish care home deaths linked to coronavirus.
Details of the investigations, released to BBC Scotland under freedom of information legislation, comes as prosecutors determine whether the deaths should be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry or prosecution.
It's the first time that details of the number of deaths linked to coronavirus in each care home in Scotland has been released.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the data shows that the worst affected homes were the in parts of the country with the highest transmission rates of the virus.
The Crown Office's COVID-19 Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT) is considering 3,202 reports of confirmed and presumed COVID deaths as of 8 April.
For further 198 care homes, the data shows between one and five COVID deaths have been recorded but the exact number has not been revealed for confidentiality reasons.
In the early days of the pandemic, more than 1,300 elderly people were moved from hospitals to care homes as ministers and health bosses, worried about hospitals being overrun, discharged fit patients to free up beds.
However, the lack of a testing regime has been blamed for seeding the virus in care homes.
Earlier this month, the outgoing health secretary Jeane Freeman admitted this had been a mistake.
She told the BBC: “We didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake.”
She said: “I think our failures were not understanding the social care sector well enough so we didn’t respond quickly enough to what was needed in our care homes but also in social care in the community.”
Asked where the government went wrong, Freeman added: “We wanted people who didn’t need to stay in hospital any longer - because they’d been treated and they were clinically well - to be discharged as quickly as possible, so we freed up those beds for COVID patients.
“Remember, the early predictions about the number of people going into hospital were terrifying actually.
“But we didn’t take the right precautions to make sure that older people leaving hospital going into care homes were as safe as they could be and that was a mistake.
“Now, I might argue we couldn’t do anything other than we did and all the rest of it, but it still created a real problem for those older people and for the others who lived in care homes and for the staff who worked in care homes.”
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said those responsible for the tragedy “must be held to account.”
She said: “This damning report has revealed the appalling damage done by the virus in Scotland’s care homes, and our thoughts are with all those who have lost a loved one.
“The SNP catastrophically failed to keep our care homes safe and thousands of people have now paid the price of their decision.
“It is unacceptable and offensive for the First Minister to claim that there was no alternative to the actions of her government. She was health secretary when C.Diff raged through hospital wards and care homes so she should have known what would happen. We also know that several pandemic planning exercises went unheeded.
“At too many times in this crisis, the First Minister has had her eye off the ball.
“This tragedy must never be repeated and those responsible for it must be held to account.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "This will be the first time that many families learn the full extent of what happened in the homes of loved ones. When I hear about the number of people who died in care homes I think of the devastated families across the country.
“I warned at the time about the danger of admitting untested residents into care homes but the government insisted it was doing the right thing.
"Care homes were missed out of pandemic exercise planning, received more than 3000 untested patients from hospital and then had to listen to the First Minister claim there was no statistical evidence this led to outbreaks.
"The repercussions of the failure to protect care homes and their residents are still being felt. Visting is extremely limited, and many family members still can't see their loved one.
"Families need the ongoing inquiry to provide answers and the next government must establish the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic."
A spokesman for Scottish Care said: "We have heard in recent days acknowledgement that 'mistakes' were made in ensuring that care homes were as ready as they could be to receive the hundreds of people who were discharged from NHS hospitals.
"We very much regret that insufficient attention was given to the needs of the care sector when compared to the preparation given to and focus upon the NHS.
"Social care as a whole was let down in the early stages of the pandemic, not least by the failures to introduce testing of staff and residents earlier."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said the Crown Office data was "consistent with the findings" of a Public Health Scotland report which "did not find statistical evidence that hospital discharges of any kind were associated with care home outbreaks".
They added: "We mourn every death from COVID and express our sympathy for all those who have lost loved ones, and for the distress and grief experienced by individuals and their families.
"As the First Minister and health secretary have previously said the Scottish government will continue to learn lessons from the COVID-pandemic and, subject to the outcome of the election, intends to have a full public inquiry which considers all aspects of how the pandemic has been handled, including the impact on care homes and their residents."