A whistleblower claims staff at Scotland’s largest care home firm have been “forced” to work in multiple homes.
New Scottish Government guidance states the practice – which increases the risk of Covid-19 – should stop, but a source said Balhousie Care Group staff had “regularly” covered shifts between infected and non-infected homes during the pandemic.
The Tayside-based care firm said, while the policy does exist, it denies that management threatened to withhold wages of staff who did not comply.
A source told the Tele workers were scared to speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs, but a rising Covid-19 death toll in care homes meant the policy was unsafe for staff and residents.
They said: “What’s been happening is an absolute disgrace – it shouldn’t have been happening at all.
“A contract requiring staff to work in multiple homes is fine in normal circumstances, but not during a pandemic.”
They added: “Staff have been shifted from one home to the other, they’ve been shifted all over the place. That’s why this is so horrendous.
“Hopefully, with this change in guidance that should change now.”
Balhousie Care Group operates 12 homes in Perth and Kinross, six in Angus, and three in Dundee.
The Scottish Government’s new guidelines for care homes, published on Friday, stated: “Staff should not work in more than one facility and movement between care homes e.g. through agency staff working across facilities must be restricted.
“This has been shown to increase the risk of imported transmission into care homes.”
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A Balhousie Care Group spokeswoman said the firm “wholeheartedly supported” the new guidance and had restricted movement “as much as possible” between homes since the Covid-19 crisis began.
She said: “However, as stated in Scottish Government guidelines out last week, there is “a fine balance” in providing appropriate staffing levels – therefore fulfilling our duty of care to residents – and in reducing the risks of transmission.”
Managers were facing a daily challenge to provide staff cover – due to illness, holidays and sector-wide recruitment issues – and using Balhousie staff was safer than using agency staff.
The spokeswoman added: “If and when our employees do have to cover a shift in another care home, it is done whilst following our rigorous infectious control policy, to minimise risks of cross-infection and ensure optimum levels of health and safety for both residents and each other.
“Moreover, we treat our care homes as ‘clusters’ where staff, if they must move between homes, do so between the same handful of homes.”