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Inverness Sheriff Court hearing defers decision on future operation of care home at centre of deadly Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak on Skye

By Philip Murray

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Home Farm care home in Portree.
Home Farm care home in Portree.

THE future running of a Skye care home where 10 residents have died from Covid-19 and dozens of others and staff have been infected should be decided in the next eight weeks.

The Care Commission wanted the interim suspension of the licence granted to the operators of the Home Farm care home in Portree – HC One – to be suspended and there have been three court hearings in Inverness so far.

In the meantime, NHS Highland has been taking an active role, working with HC One to ensure the welfare and safety of the 30 residents and 29 staff with regular inspections being carried out.

But today (Wednesday), there was again a delay in resolving the future of the home and its operators, with the Care Commission withdrawing its application for interim suspension at Inverness Sheriff Court.

Then both parties agreed to ask Sheriff Eilidh Macdonald for a further period of time to allow discussions to go on to finally decide who will run the home.

She agreed to fix a procedural hearing for August 21 after pleadings and answers had been lodged before a final decision is reached whether NHS Highland take over or HC One is allowed to continue.

But the Sheriff said: "I would then want to be addressed whether this matter is to proceed to an evidential hearing or not, what discussions have taken place between parties and what agreements have taken place on how the home is being managed at that time so we can move forward."

Counsel for the Social Care and Social Work Improvement Scotland (SCSWS), David Logan told the court that after a recent inspection of the home, some issues were identified with the use of PPE and the storage of medicines. But he added that the Commission concluded that there was not a serious risk to health.

But he added: "There is a problem. NHS Highland became involved in the running of the home and effectively have taken over the day-to-day control of the home and they are not the registered service provider.

"One possibility that may happen going forward is that NHS Highland would take over the registration completely by making their own application at which point the registration of the respondents (HC One) may be dismissed or voluntarily surrendered.

"The other possibility is that the respondents would return to be in day-to-day control of the home and that would be a major concern if the issues that were identified in the petition were not addressed in detail by means of a comprehensive business plan explaining the managerial efficiencies which had been introduced.

"We agreed that we will drop our application for interim order (suspension). The respondents would get three weeks to discuss who is going to manage the home going forward. and another four weeks be allowed to give us time to consider whether their proposals – if there are proposals – to run the home are satisfactory or not. If they are, then that would be an end of the matter."

Mr Logan said that if they are not, then the Commission could still contend that there was still a serious risk and make a fresh application to have HC One removed.

Commenting after today's hearing, Ian Blackford, the MP for Skye, Ross and Lochaber, said: "Today's court action paves the way for transfer of ownership of Home Farm on Skye to NHS Highland. This is a good day for the Isle. My thanks go to NHS Highland and the Scottish Government for their leadership on this. HC-One must graciously step aside and not seek a large profit from the sale."

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