Scottish Government pays £900K for NHS to buy coronavirus-hit care home on Skye

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman refused to say if the owners of a care home hit by a Covid-19 outbreak in which 10 elderly residents died would make a profit, after the Scottish Government funded a £900,000 buyout by the NHS.

Ms Freeman announced NHS Highland has purchased the Home Farm home (pictured) in Portree, Skye, with ministers providing the necessary cash.

The Health Secretary said the wellbeing of residents had now been “secured by NHS Highland, who has purchased this care home from the current provider HC One”.

The move comes after the Care Inspectorate took court action to improve standards at the facility, with Ms Freeman saying inspectors had assessed that at that time “the care home was effectively a risk to life and limb”.

NHS Highland stepped in after “significant levels of support” were provided to Home Farm, resulting in improved care, she added.

As a result, the Care Inspectorate dropped its legal case last month.

But Ms Freeman said there was “no guarantee” this improvement would continue if NHS Highland “stepped away” from running Home Farm.

She added: “We’re talking about an island population who do not want their loved ones cared for off-island, so the discussions and the negotiations began, with my authorisation, to see if it was possible for NHS Highland to take over the registration and the running of that care home.

“That’s the situation we have now reached, that agreement is now there.”

The Health Secretary confirmed NHS Highland had paid £900,000 for the home, but said: “The money has gone from the Scottish Government so that NHS Highland’s own funds are not used for this purpose.”

Asked directly if the company had made a profit from the deal, she stated: “Whether or not HC One profited or not, I don’t have HC One’s accounts in front of me, I don’t have their balance sheet. They are a group, this is one care home in their group.

“What I do know is that with our senior finance officials and with NHS Highland, we worked very hard on those negotiations to get the best possible price, remembering that what we are aiming to do is secure a sustainable future for that important care home on the island of Skye and make sure the residents there are cared for and looked after well.”

She insisted that “these situations are not straightforward” as she explained the Government had wanted to do “everything that is possible to protect” residents there.

Ms Freeman said: “I believe that the conclusion of those negotiations have produced not only stability for the residents and security for them and their families, but also the best use of public funds.

“Because to have done anything else would have entered us into a much longer-term financial arrangement that would have cost a great deal more, but without the overall control of what happened in that care home sitting in the public sector, ie the NHS.”

The transfer of the care home to NHS Highland is due to take effect from November – with Ms Freeman adding the move would also benefit staff there, who will have “improved terms and conditions and importantly job security” under the NHS.

Paul Hawkins, NHS Highland chief executive, said: “We have worked constructively with HC One over the last number of weeks to improve the standards of care within the home, particularly in relation to managing infection control in a Covid-19 environment.

“Securing the future of the home under the Highland Health and Social Care Partnership within the NHS will enable us to ensure these standards are maintained.”

Local MSP and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes welcomed the move, saying: “I am delighted that NHS Highland will be taking over the care home formally with financial support from the Scottish Government.”

Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon also said the purchase of Home Farm by the NHS was a “welcome intervention”, saying staff and residents there must “get the support they need”.

But she added: “HC One must be held to account for its record in Skye and elsewhere and must not profit from this necessary state intervention.

“The Scottish Government must be transparent about any similar plans for other care homes and how this might fit with plans for a National Care Service.”

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