DIRECT inspections at Scotland’s care homes have only been restarted after a u-turn by the watchdog amid accusations of a “light-touch approach”. 

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed that the Care Inspectorate, which oversees the care sector, had initially decided it did not wish to directly inspect care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, because it believed that was the safest way to operate for residents. 

NHS Highland is now helping to run the Home Farm care home on Skye after the Care Inspectorate raised "serious and significant concerns" and has applied to the courts for the owners' registration to be cancelled.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Skye outbreak care home could be closed down after 'serious concerns' found

Deputy Labour leader Jackie Baillie criticised the “light-touch approach” by the Care Inspectorate, asking Ms Freeman, “where have the Care Inspectorate been?”. 

She added: “The truth is that the Care Inspectorate have been posted missing. Instead of stepping up to the plate, they’ve actually stepped back and taken a light-touch approach. 

“At a time when people are dying in their hundreds in care homes, did the Scottish Government agree to the Care Inspectorate stepping back?” 

Ms Freeman said it was a welcome move that the Care Inspectorate had changed its stance on direct inspections. 

She said: “The Care Inspectorate took a view, as they were entitled to do, that in the face of the pandemic, the safest (option) – in terms of residents at the care home, was to undertake inspections and engagement with care homes that did not involve directly appearing in the home. 

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

“The Care Inspectorate have now changed that position and I am glad that they have – in order to directly inspect what is happening in those care homes. That, I think, is a welcome change of decision from them.” 

The Health Secretary also stressed that with around 70 per cent of care homes “delivered by private business”, it meant her ability to “direct and instruct is limited” unlike the NHS, which was put on an emergency footing by Ms Freeman as the pandemic emerged. 

She added: “Whether or not that is the right place for us to be, whether or not in the longer to medium-term we want to be in a different place, is an important debate for a different day.  

“I have to deal with the reality of the sector that I currently have." 

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: Care workers 'terrified' of losing pay if they test positive

Ms Freeman was also quizzed by Conservative health spokesperson, Miles Briggs, over the proportion of delayed discharge patients that were moved to care homes at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. Mr Briggs labelled the approach by the Scottish Government to testing in care homes as “dysfunctional”, 

The Health Secretary confirmed that as of the end of last week, 38% of hospital discharges were to care homes. 

She said: “I refute the idea that we were forcing people out of hospital in order to clear the way for Covid-19. 

“Actually, those 3,000 bed spaces that we cleared came primarily from the key areas of health care that we took the very difficult decisions to stop, not least elective procedures. 

“Moving people in their home or a care home is the right thing to do when clinical care is no longer required in a hospital. 

“Testing is not the single silver bullet to prevent the transmission of this virus.” 

Conservatives have criticised the Health Secretary being unable to confirm how many had been tested for the virus. 

Mr Briggs said: “It is clear from the outset of the crisis that SNP ministers were pressing health boards to discharge vulnerable delayed discharge patients from hospital into care homes regardless of testing. 

 “The fact that Ms Freeman is unable to confirm that almost 40% of delayed discharge patients released to care homes were virus free is deeply worrying. It’s no wonder that Covid has exploded within the care home sector."  

He added: “This demonstrates an astounding complacency to the danger of this virus that has now ravaged care homes. 

“Scottish care homes have seen more deaths than the rest of the UK, it seems this is due to a combination of mistakes made at the beginning of this crisis by the SNP government.”