NEW figures show that around 25,000 patients were discharged from hospital to care homes without being tested for Covid-19 at the height of the pandemic. A National Audit Office report revealed that the NHS’s policy to discharge patients without necessarily testing lasted nearly a month before it was changed.
It is not known how many of the 25,000 discharged without testing between March 17 and April 15 many were infected, but by mid-May, one in three care homes had experienced an outbreak of Covid-19, and according to the Office for National Statistics, at least 15,000 care home residents died from Covid-19 in May. Analysts LaingBuisson predict that care home residents will account for half of England’s coronavirus-related deaths.
The chair of the health select committee and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘Whilst the impact of such discharges meant the NHS was never short of beds or ventilators, it seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically.’ He pointed out that countries such as Germany and Hong Kong took measures to protect their care homes that we did not over a critical four-week period.
The chair of the public accounts committee, Labour’s Meg Hillier, remarked that care-home residents had been ‘an afterthought’ in the Government’s emergency response.
The Department of Health and Social Care maintained that ‘it took the ‘right decisions at the right time’, pointing out that ‘60 per cent of all care homes had avoided outbreaks entirely’.
A spokesman said since the launch of their whole care-home testing, the Government had provided more than one million test kits to almost 9,000 care homes, and that every care home in England will now be offered a coronavirus test for all residents and staff even if they have no symptoms.
It would be unfair to blame the Government alone for treating the care homes as an ‘afterthought’ in their pandemic response, since the NHS has consistently emphasised the importance of making sure hospitals are not overwhelmed by a surge in Covid-19 patients. It increased the number of beds reserved for Covid-19 patients from 12,600 to 53,700, and the number of virus patients never exceeded the number of available beds.
It seems the NHS’s aim of protecting the NHS succeeded, but at the expense of the care-home residents who needed it most – 25,000 ‘afterthoughts’, and 25,000 reasons for shame.