Care home residents have been compared to “exhibits in a reptile house” due to Covid restrictions limiting visits, a lawyer representing families at the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry said as it opened on Tuesday.
Amber Gibson KC spoke on behalf of Care Home Relatives Scotland (CHRS), one of the key participants in the inquiry, and made an opening statement in Edinburgh.
Chaired by Lord Brailsford, it will investigate the Scottish Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first phase of hearings will look at the impact of the pandemic on health and social care, with subsequent phases looking at education and young people, business and financial support and welfare.
Ms Gibson told the inquest that care home residents suffered an “unduly disproportionate” impact on their lives, which left them feeling “isolated, unheard and discriminated against”.
The lawyer relayed a story where a CHRS member sat two meters away from her mother and “watched as she was physically restrained” from walking over to her for a hug during nursing home restrictions as a result of Covid-19 restrictions which meant care Residents of the house could not touch their loved ones while they visited.
Mrs Gibson said: “A carer was able to sit next to her and hold her hand, but not her daughter. What is this if not discrimination?
“Why were caregivers considered less of a health risk than parents or children?
“Their state of mind may have been such that all they knew was that they were suddenly left without visits, without touching, not even seeing others in the house.”
He compared care home residents' experience of being restricted where they could only see relatives through the window to being ‘on display'.
He said: “Perhaps they would be paraded behind glass like an exhibit in a reptile museum or a prisoner.”
David Di Paola, a lawyer representing CrossReach, a social care organization run by the Church of Scotland, said in his opening statement how the sector was already underfunded as a result of “years of underinvestment”.
He criticized the Scottish Government's approach to implementing guidelines and rules.
Mr Di Paola said industry representatives had to intervene to stop the late Friday rules from taking effect next Monday.
He said: “It took considerable effort to implement the guidance which came thick and fast, was often vague and sometimes unhelpful and accompanied by short implementation windows.”
The agency also had problems sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) due to unprecedented demand for it.
Mr Di Paola said some companies were charging seven times more than they normally would.
CrossReach has also had incidents where children in their care have not been able to see family members.
The agency also suffered “significant financial pressures,” including revenue shortfalls, rising premiums and agency staffing costs.
Later, speaking on behalf of Promoting a More Inclusive Society Scotland, Ms Gibson said some families had become so worried they had considered making suicide deals.
Speaking on behalf of Scottish ministers, Geoffrey Mitchell KC said questions had been raised about whether the inconvenience was “too great”.
He said: “The Scottish Government is in a position to explain the strategic decisions made during this period.
“The Scottish Government is very aware of the loss and suffering experienced in this sector (health and social care) and in Scotland as a whole.
“On behalf of the Scottish Government, I would like to acknowledge this loss.
“This pain, suffering, sacrifice and endurance is recognised, understood and acknowledged by the Scottish Government.
“The Scottish Government understands that legitimate questions are being raised about whether the suffering should have been so great.”
Lord Brailsford said: “I want to start by reiterating my sincere condolences and those of the inquiry team to those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and our sympathy to the many people who have been and continue to be affected by the pandemic.”
The inquiry, before Lord Brailsford, continues.