CARE home operators need to use additional staff offered by the Scottish Government to ensure infected workers do not contribute to the spread of the virus in institutions, Jeane Freeman has warned. 

The Health Secretary has written to Scotland’s health boards after becoming concerned that routine testing of care home staff “is not happening consistently in a planned way across the country”. 

Speaking on Sunday Politics Scotland, Ms Freeman was asked why not all care home workers and families are being tested, despite a Scottish Government pledge to do so. 

She said: “The priority for testing for that has been undertaken by health boards has been on those care homes that have a negative case – testing the residents and the workers in those care homes. 

READ MORE: Jeane Freeman: NHS staff 'not yet' being routinely tested for Covid-19 despite hospital transmission

“Whilst some board areas have gone further in their progress of testing care home workers in care homes where there is no case, not all of them have moved as fast enough as I need them to, which is why last week I issued that instruction – on the basis that the health service is on an emergency footing. 

“From this week, we will publish weekly, the data on each board, how many residents have been tested and how many care home workers have been tested.” 

Ms Freeman admitted that a stumbling block that has now been overcome is concerns that some care home staff were not wanting to be testing for Covid-19 amid fears they would not be able to work if they tested positive and would not be paid. 

The Health Secretary said: “One of the reasons that there was difficulty, that the unions brought to my attention, was because for some care home workers, their terms and conditions, if they were absent, meant  that they were only on statutory sick pay - people were rightly concerned  about being testing, proving positive and having their income reduced so significantly. 

“I intervened to stop that and make sure care home workers don’t have that financial penalty. The testing of care home workers is happening, but not as fast as I need it to, which is why I have put that requirement on boards.” 

The Scottish Government has told care home operators that workers should only be working in one institution, but the head of Scottish Care, Donald Macaskill, has warned that this is not being implemented because of staffing problems. 

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Ms Freeman said: “It’s implemented when care home providers use the portal where we have a significant number of experienced care home workers waiting to be deployed. In other areas, we have directly intervened and put NHS staff into those care homes. 

“It is for care home providers – remember these are businesses that need to approach and say ‘we want workers from that care home pool that you have’. I can’t individually, care home by care home, send in staff - I need this to be a cooperative exercise between me and the care home providers. I have made the resources available, they need to step forward and use those resources.” 

The Health Secretary also stressed that care home workers from a home which has an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus should not be entering institutions which are free of the virus – adding that “I do not control the way care homes operate”. 

She said: “Care homes are businesses, either private sector or independent sector or those run by local authorities. I need their cooperation in delivering this policy.  

“To the best of my knowledge, many of them are cooperating and where we hear of instances where that is not the case, the Care Inspectorate now conducting on-site inspections, then action is taken to address that.”