Bosses of virus-hit Skye care home defend sick pay rules for infected staff

Local MP Ian Blackford wants staff at Home Farm Care Home at Portree, pictured, who test positive for the virus to receive full pay. Photograph: BBC Scotland. NO F21 Home Farm version 2
Local MP Ian Blackford wants staff at Home Farm Care Home at Portree, pictured, who test positive for the virus to receive full pay. Photograph: BBC Scotland. NO F21 Home Farm version 2

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The operator of Home Farm Care Home at Portree on Skye, where 10 residents have so far died due to an outbreak of coronavirus, has defended only paying statutory sick pay to infected employees if they do not qualify for company sick pay.

HC-One’s comments came after local Skye constituency MP Ian Blackford lambasted the firm, which has seen more than 200 residents in its homes across Scotland, die as a result of COVID-19.

Last week, the Care Inspectorate launched legal action in the sheriff court to have HC-One’s registration to run Home Farm cancelled.

This followed an unannounced inspection by the Care Inspectorate which revealed ‘serious concerns’ at the home.

At Inverness Sheriff Court yesterday (Wednesday) it was decided to allow HC-One time to continue the level of improvement to the standards that satisfy the Care Inspectorate and NHS Highland.

But this week saw HC-One again in the firing line with Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Mr Blackford urging the owners of the stricken care home to pay full wages to staff who are signed off sick with COVID-19.

He has now written to HC-One to point out its ‘moral and ethical responsibility’ to adequately remunerate staff members who are off sick.

The SNP’s Westminster Leader has also written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak to request immediate top up payments for careworkers elsewhere who are facing similar circumstances.

The move follows an approach to Mr Blackford by several local care workers who tested positive for COVID-19 and were forced to take sick leave from the privately-run facility.

As a result, they have been left reliant on statutory sick pay in place of their usual income.

‘This company has a moral and ethical responsibility to pay full wages to staff members who are off sick with COVID-19,’ said Mr Blackford.

‘It is not acceptable that they should have to deal with the added stress of financial difficulties on top of the very real health concerns they are facing while fighting this disease.

‘Furthermore, we can’t have a situation where anyone feels forced to return to work early as a result of financial restraints.’

Asked if it was willing to listen to Mr Blackford’s sick pay appeal, a spokesperson for HC-One told us: ‘Colleagues who test positive or self-isolate due to COVID-19 are paid their normal contractual sick pay from day one or, if they are entitled to it, Company Sick Pay as per their contract.

‘This reflects the significant financial constraints facing every local authority-funded care provider in the UK, a situation which has only been exacerbated by the additional cost pressures of responding to COVID-19.

‘Within these constraints we have developed a comprehensive package of wellbeing support for colleagues. This has been enhanced as we respond to the current coronavirus pandemic, and includes access to online GPs, mental health support, free meals for colleagues, and discounts at various high-street stores.

‘We’ve created a dedicated bereavement support package in recognition that our residents are often also our friends and losing them during this outbreak may have a profound impact on our colleagues. We’ve also invested significantly in making sure our homes have always had the PPE they need.’

Last week, NHS Highland agreed to immediately deploy additional resources to support staff and residents at Home Farm.

The legal move by the Care Inspectorate could end HC-One’s role as the care
provider at Home Farm, and see NHS Highland taking over completely.

Mr Blackford added: ‘What has happened at Home Farm has shaken all of us on the Isle of Skye. Our thoughts are with all those who have the virus, those who have died, their families and friends and the wider community.’