THE distress caused to care home residents by months of "severe restrictions" during the pandemic may have led to deaths in some cases, researchers have said.

Academics also questioned the legal basis for confining residents to their rooms and banning visitors, saying there was "little evidence" that the human rights of residents or their loved ones had been considered.

The findings are laid out in a 143-page report by Edinburgh Napier University, which was among 14 commissioned and published by the Scottish Covid Inquiry chaired by Lady Poole.

The papers looked at 12 areas relating to how the pandemic response was handled in Scotland, including health, education and the impact on care and nursing homes.

The report by Edinburgh Napier, which was compiled by a team from the university's School of Health and Social Care led by Professor Colin McKay, states: “Care home residents were subject to severe restrictions for many months, including bans on visits, being unable to leave the home, and being cared for primarily in their room.

“This caused great distress and is likely to have contributed to a number of cases to cognitive and emotional decline and even death.

“The need for some restriction was understandable, given the vulnerability of care home residents and the large number of deaths in the sector.

“However, the legal basis of the restrictions is unclear, and there was arguably discrimination in respect of this group, compared with the rest of the community.

“There is little evidence in the early months of consideration of the human rights of residents and their families, including the proportionality of measures generally or in individual cases.

“Matters improved from autumn 2020, although the guidance on outbreaks meant many residents still faced severe restrictions for many weeks.”

Another report from Edinburgh University said 50% of all Covid-related deaths in Scotland between March and June 2020 had involved care home residents, and that a lack of testing before hospital patients were discharged to care homes contributed to Covid outbreaks.

The findings come after policies discharging untested hospital patients to care homes was found to be unlawful at the High Court in London.

Researchers also found that the Scottish and UK Governments were "ill-prepared" for a pandemic and "caught out" by the speed of virus transmission.

The papers are part of a scoping exercise intended to provide an independent evaluation of Covid measures, outcomes, and to signpost further areas of investigation for the Scottish Covid Inquiry. 

However, the Inquiry's website stresses that the papers reflect the views of the researchers, that there is "nothing in the research is binding on the Inquiry", and that it "does not cover everything the Inquiry will be investigating". 

The Scottish Government has declined to comment at this stage.

Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, the umbrella body for independent providers, said he agreed with many of the findings.

He said: "The conditions laid and the restrictions imposed were extremely severe.

"I think most of us indicated we had to be very careful that some of the restrictions were not likely to cause more harm than they were to save lives."

HeraldScotland: Donald Macaskill, of Scottish CareDonald Macaskill, of Scottish Care

Dr Macaskill said the need to balance quality of life and prevention from harm had not been "as rigorously considered as it should have been".

He said: "The blanket decisions we took as a society - the decisions around restrictions and lockdown, particularly for people with advanced dementia, did not appropriately take into account their human rights. We treated one as we treated all, and that was wholly inappropriate."

He added that planning for a potential pandemic pre-Covid had excluded the social care sector.

"Social care was nowhere," he said. "We were not at the table in terms of preparation for a pandemic.

"Therefore it is hardly surprising that there was insufficient guidance sensitive to the context of care homes, but guidance written for a hospital which is simply not fit for purpose for someone's own home."

Dr Macaskill stressed that the restrictions imposed initially were not unusual in terms of how care homes deal with other viral outbreaks, such as norovirus, but criticised imposing "the same level of restriction two months, six months, one year on" in the face of warnings from care home managers and workers about the impact it was having on residents.

Cathie Russell, who set up the Care Home Relatives Scotland campaign group to push for increased visiting rights, said the findings were "shocking" but not surprising.

She said: "The distress caused to residents, none of that would come as a surprise to us - we've seen those declines take place ourselves - but to find out that none of it probably has any legal basis that was a bit of a revelation to me. I was quite taken aback by that, although I had always felt it was deeply wrong."

HeraldScotland: Cathie Russell had cared for her mother Rose, who died last year, for five years before she went into a care home in 2019Cathie Russell had cared for her mother Rose, who died last year, for five years before she went into a care home in 2019

Ms Russell, whose mother was in a care home in Lanarkshire from 2019 until her death in July 2021, said care home residents rights were "thrown under a bus" and that relatives faced repeated obstacles to seeing loved ones even after visiting rules were relaxed.

She said: "We never knew who we were up against. The guidance would improve and then the care homes wouldn't let us in, and then when that started to improve public health locally would locked us out, so we were constantly up against it.

"But the upshot of it all was that I didn't get inside that home between March 17 one year and March 16 the following year, and that was not an uncommon situation particularly for people in Glasgow and Lanarkshire.

"They were absolutely draconian restrictions - no one could have thought they were right...the care homes could and should have done more than they did to get us in earlier.

"There were times when the guidance would have allowed me to get in, but my mother's care home wouldn't allow it."