Elderly care homes residents "may have been neglected and left to starve" during the pandemic as worried families were "fobbed off", the Scottish Covid inquiry has heard.

In a damning opening statement to the inquiry in Edinburgh, Shelagh McCall KC - acting on behalf of the Bereaved Relatives Group Skye - said the "blanket ban" of face to face visits made it impossible for families to keep tabs on a loved one's wellbeing.

Ms McCall said families' telephone calls "went unanswered over days and sometimes weeks" and their enquiries were "treated with disdain as if they were an inconvenience".

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At times, attempts to get in touch with a loved one were "thwarted", she said, by "excuses" about faulty iPads or malfunctioning wifi.

She added: "Families were told their loved ones were 'fine', only to get a sudden hurried phone call that they were dying."

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Ms McCall, who represents care workers and families whose loved ones died in care homes in Scotland's rural and island communities, said that relatives encountered a "total lack of transparency" once a Covid outbreak spread through a home, with some learning about it only through Facebook.

Staff were seen "attending work while displaying symptoms", but when relatives asked about someone having tested positive "they were lied to", said Ms McCall.

In some cases care home staff - forbidden by managers from sharing what was going on inside a home with the outside world - resorted to updating families in secret.

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Ms McCall said: "Some staff formed the view that management cared more about their reputation in the community and the protection of their business than they did about the residents, their families, and the care workers who do the job not for the money but because their heart is in it."

In one home the alcohol-based hand gels "were locked in a cupboard to which staff were not permitted access by management". They "cleaned using air freshener" instead.

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Some residents died alone, with families subsequently discovering that their records were "missing or incomplete" and their belongings "burned" as a Covid hazard.

Some families were so alarmed by the circumstances leading up to their loved ones' passing that they reported it to the police.

"They want to know how it got to that stage?," said Ms McCall, adding that there are questions around whether human rights were violated.

"We anticipate that the inquiry will hear that people were pressured to agree to Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices, and that people were not resuscitated even though no such notice was in place.

"That residents may have been neglected and left to starve, that families are not sure they were told the truth about their relative's cause of death, that the usual process for the certification of death was departed from.

"Relatives will speak of their loved ones lacking food, water, and hygiene. That there was inappropriate, inadequate, absent or delayed medical attention"

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The second day of the Scottish Covid Inquiry also heard from Alastair Gray for Central Scotland Care Homes (CSCH) - a group of 21 small to medium-sized premises based mainly in Greater Glasgow.

Mr Gray criticised the "lack of consultation" between decision-makers and care home operators.

Guidance was "contradictory" and "changed frequently", he said, sometimes even "twice in one day".

"There was a rigid expectation that guidance would be implemented, and implemented immediately," said Mr Gray.

"These attitudes led to a demoralising work environment for staff and service managers."

Decisions to discharge patients from hospitals into care homes were "made at very short notice to help free up beds in the NHS", but a number of his group's members believe that a lack of precautionary Covid testing "led to outbreaks in their homes".

The beginning of the pandemic was also associated with a decline in the treatment of care home residents if they became unwell and needed hospital care, said Mr Gray.

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He said: "Accident and Emergency departments would refuse to take them and care home staff were expected to deliver care outwith their usual scope of practice.

"During this time, staff at all levels within CSCH reported feeling helpless, knowing that medical care in hospital would not be given even when residents desperately needed it."

External agencies including the Care Inspectorate and health and social care partnerships (HSCPs) had "unrealistic expectations" around how quickly new guidance could be put into practice and offered "very little support" when homes were struggling.

Mr Gray highlighted an example where cleaning staff stepped in to care for unwell residents as a result of staff shortages caused when the care staff were forced to self-isolate for 14 days.

"This was highlighted in one report as being negative. However, no support or guidance was given as to how this could have been handled differently...this contributed to what felt like a culture of blame and exacerbated the feeling of a divide between external agencies and care homes at a time when everyone ought to have been working together."