NICOLA Sturgeon has stressed that the Scottish Government is not “taking unacceptable risks" with those infected with Covid-19 - after it emerged care home workers who test positive may have to carry on working. 

The latest guidance by Health Protection Scotland indicates that workers who have received positive test results for Covid-19 may be required to complete their shifts before leaving the care home, if there are staff shortages. 

Concerns have also been raised over infected staff feeling pressured to turn up to work. 

Data from the National Records of Scotland showed almost half of the 3,213 deaths linked to coronavirus in Scotland up to May 10, totalling 1,438, have taken place in care homes. 

The guidance was defended after a ninth resident was confirmed to have died in an outbreak of coronavirus at a care home on the Isle of Skye. Thirty residents and 29 staff have tested positive for Covid-19 at the home. 

News of the latest deaths came after NHS Highland stepped in to play a greater role in running the home. 

On Thursday, the Care Inspectorate lodged a court bid to cancel the registration of the home's operators HC-One, which could prevent it from running the facility. 

The regulator said it had "serious and significant concerns" about the quality of care in the home following an unannounced inspection this week. 

The new guidance issued to care homes says that staff who test positive for coronavirus “will be excluded from working in any care setting as soon as is practically possible” and that will be “no later than the end of a shift”. 

It adds: “There might be circumstances where there could be an unavoidable delay in replacing all test positive staff immediately. This could create an unacceptable risk to the safety of the care being provided. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: New care home residents arriving without negative results amid Skye outbreak

“If such a situation occurred, then any staff that had to continue working must only do so for the absolute minimum period (e.g. to complete a shift) pending their replacement.” 

Scotland’s chief nursing officer, Professor Fiona McQueen, said infected care workers continuing their shift before leaving the care home “should not be on the frontline, caring for residents”. 

She added: “If you are a registered nurse and you’re in charge of that shift for 12 hours in a care home which may be 10 miles from anywhere and you have a text or telephone call saying that you are positive, then that nurse cannot just walk out of the care home. 

“What I would expect them to do is go and isolate within a room until they have a relief coming to them." There is never any intention, in my mind, that any member of staff who is Covid-positive will be delivering care or at their work. 

“There is going to be that transition time of being told and how do you then get relief from that. If at all possible, it would be immediate. If it cannot be immediate, it would be as soon as possible and certainly minutes, rather than hours – but not delivering direct care.” 

The First Minister said the scenario was evidence for the importance of care homes drawing up contingency plans for when staff receive positive test results. 

She added: “We are talking in extremis, for a very short period of time, of a member of staff simply not walking out the door – but they would not be providing direct clinical care to a resident. 

“We are not suggesting that a member of staff who has tested positive continues to come into contact with and give direct care to residents in a care home, but families of residents also want to know a care home is safe and secure. There may just be, in some circumstances, a period of time where they will be not with direct contact with residents, but still in the building – so there is a security of that care home.” 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Hugh Pennington: Mistakes made over testing, PPE and care homes

Unions have also raised worrying concerns that some low-paid staff feel pressured into turning up to work in care homes because they cannot afford not to. 

Deborah Clarke, Unison Scotland's head of communities, said: “These are often very low-paid workers, often the main bread-winner in single-parent households or looking after elderly parents – they cannot afford to live on £94 a week. 

“I spoke to a care worker who had symptoms of Covid-19 and was having to hide the symptoms and go to work because they simply could not afford to be off. That is a symbol of a broken system and it needs to be addressed.” 

Health Secretary Jean Freeman said that anyone with symptoms should not be leaving their home to go to work and called on care home companies to take responsibility. 

She said: “I do think that care home providers have a real responsibility here to have proper terms and conditions for their staff. 

“I think that the level of fee that they receive both from government and those residents who fund themselves, should allow they to properly value their staff in that way. 

“The situation is putting care home workers in a very difficult personal position when they know, as I do, that if they are symptomatic, then they should be at home to protect themselves and their families and also those that they care for. There should not be pressure on them to do anything other than that.” 

READ MORE: FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon suggests English care home death statistics are inaccurate

Scottish Labour has criticised other parts of the new guidance, which advises that if there is an outbreak in a care home which is part of a group or chain, testing should be carried out “urgently”. 

Despite this, the party claims, the guidance adds that if an outbreak is detected at a care home as part of a chain, assurances must be sought that the home has a contingency plan before that testing being carried out. 

Scottish Labour health and social care spokesperson Monica Lennon said: “This guidance should be withdrawn and improved. We can’t take any chances with care home safety. 

“Care homes are at the centre of the crisis and we can’t afford any more missed opportunities to save lives. The guidance is nowhere close enough to a comprehensive testing policy for care homes. 

“Staff are living in fear that they are spreading the virus and making residents ill. That’s why it’s disappointing that trade unions have not been fully consulted. The Scottish Government must put safety first and that’s why Scottish Labour is seeking support for any care worker who faces hardship as a result of this crisis.”