Police are spending hours grilling exhausted staff as part of an extensive investigation into all coronavirus-linked care home deaths in Scotland, it has been claimed.
The interviews have been causing “real emotional distress” to employees and have led to increasing workloads, according to Scottish Care, which represents the largest group of social care providers in the nation.
Documents leaked to Channel 4 News suggested that the investigation had been named “Operation Koper” and that it currently covered 309 deaths.
However, it was reported that its scope would eventually be extended to all care home deaths in Scotland that were linked to coronavirus, a total of more than 2,000.
EXCL: We can reveal a major police investigation into care home deaths is actively underway in Scotland.
▪️'Operation Koper' is gathering evidence on ALL notified care home deaths
▪️@Channel4News understands some care workers have already spent hours being questioned by police.
— Ciaran Jenkins (@C4Ciaran) October 22, 2020
Police have previously confirmed that they have passed information gathered in relation to the deaths of 11 residents at the Home Farm Care Home on Skye to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).
Now, the COPFS has confirmed that a “dedicated team” had been established to deal with all reports of Covid-19-linked deaths in care homes.
However, it has been reported that some facilities have had to employ additional staff to cope with the increased demands.
These investigations have resulted in increased workload and are causing real emotional distress amongst care home staff.”
Scottish Care spokesman
A spokesman for Scottish Care said: “These investigations have resulted in increased workload and are causing real emotional distress amongst care home staff.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked about the investigations at her daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday.
She said: “It would be completely unacceptable for me to pass any comment or opinion on what the police do.
“The police act independently to investigate where they consider there is a need to do that, and I would not gainsay or pass comment on that.”
In May, Assistant Chief Constable Duncan Sloan, lead for major crime and public protection at Police Scotland, said the force was gathering information as part of a COPFS review into care home deaths.
At the time, he added: “Our involvement does not necessarily indicate that crimes are being investigated and the information we gather on behalf of COPFS will help inform its decision on whether further action is required.”
Channel 4 News said on social media that the leaked documents it had obtained showed the extensive questions police were asking care homes in relation to each death.
It was reported that there were 37 questions covering issues such as PPE supplies, infection control procedures and floorplans.
A COPFS spokesman said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has established a dedicated team to deal with reports of Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths in care homes or where the deceased may have contracted the virus in the course of their employment.
“The team will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”
Alan Wightman, whose 88-year-old mother Helen died of the virus at Scoonie House care home in Leven in May, welcomed the police investigation but said it did not go far enough.
It’s good that the police are investigating but I don’t think it’s sufficient in itself.”
Mr Wightman, a member of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, has reiterated his calls for a rapid, full-scale public inquiry.
“Whilst there is a place for a police investigation, this is far, far bigger than just the care homes,” he said.
“We’re talking about failings at multiple levels, starting at government level and going down through the NHS, provision of PPE, the whole gamut.”
Mr Wightman, from Forfar, said care homes were an easy target, and added: “We can point the finger at the care homes and walk away like the government tried to do but it’s much wider than that.
“It’s good that the police are investigating but I don’t think it’s sufficient in itself.”
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has called for an inquiry into the handling of the entire pandemic at both UK and Scottish Government levels, which would include a review of deaths in care homes.
“It should have happened six months ago but I fear it’s too late to learn lessons before a second wave because it’s already here,” Mr Wightman said.
“It’s a missed opportunity.”