Scotland’s largest care home provider has been accused of lacking transparency over its refusal to make public any information relating to coronavirus at its facilities.
Balhousie Care Group, which runs 22 homes across Tayside and Fife, has refused to state if there have been any Covid-19 related fatalities recorded at their homes in a move that has been slammed as “defying belief”.
Another major operator, Barchester, which runs Ochil Care Home in Perth and South Grange Nursing Home in Monifieth, has also so far declined to release figures.
Transparency concerns were raised further after the Care Inspectorate confirmed care providers are under “no statutory obligation” to notify residents or their families of an outbreak within homes.
The wall of silence from Balhousie Care Group was revealed after The Courier approached the company regarding a confirmed case of coronavirus at its North Inch facility in Perth.
A female resident at the facility was sent between Perth Royal Infirmary and the care home four times in as many days before testing positive for Covid-19, leading to calls for more testing to be made available for both residents and staff.
However when asked about the positive case within their facility, Balhousie stated it would not be commenting on any matter relating to coronavirus deaths or testing.
Alexander Stewart, Conservative Mid Scotland and Fife MSP, lambasted the organisation for the secretive approach.
“To hear that Balhousie Care Group, one of the biggest care providers in the region, has said that it won’t be commenting on anything relating to testing or cases of Covid-19 at any of their facilities completely defies belief.
“During a global health pandemic such as the one we are all currently in the midst of, it is vital that care homes are as transparent as possible and that they allow residents and their families access to all information relevant to their care.
“Without transparency by those who are being paid to provide a service, how can families and residents feel confident in their abilities to provide that due care which is expected?”
The politician added all care workers need access to testing, a viewpoint backed by his colleague Murdo Fraser and Green MSP Mark Ruskell.
Mr Ruskell said: “The evidence shows that regular testing for health workers, including those in care homes, should form a central part of our response to Covid-19.
“There is extra testing capacity and the information gathered through testing can save lives.
“Given that, I would hope care homes would join me in demanding increased testing for the sake of their residents and staff.”
Mr Fraser added: “Testing is crucial to safeguard individuals and provide reassurance to their families and I believe that Balhousie Care Homes should be transparent on the number of tests they are providing.”
The decision by Balhousie and Barchester to withhold the information from the public is in stark contrast to other health providers in the region including Thistle Healthcare, Kennedy Care Group and Priority Care.
The Care Inspectorate confirmed care homes are under “no obligation” to notify residents of an outbreak within their facilities but are required to notify the watchdog.
A Care Inspectorate spokesperson: “Care services are doing a very difficult job caring for people during this pandemic.
“We have asked that they keep us up to date with formal notifications of the situation in each home and we share this information with the Scottish Government to assist in planning support during the pandemic.
“We expect care services to keep residents’ loved ones informed about their care and we know that care services are rising to the challenge of doing just that during an unprecedented public health emergency.”
A spokesperson for Balhousie Care Group said: “While, for confidentiality reasons, we choose not to comment on our individual residents, we follow closely the guidance issued by Health Protection Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government surrounding the care of our residents.”
A Barchester spokesperson said: “Every death is a personal tragedy and not everyone wants their family details in the paper.
“We are keeping relatives up to date with all relevant information regarding any cases of Covid-19 in our homes as a priority.”