More than 500 patients were discharged from Leicester’s hospitals and into care homes without coronavirus tests at the start of the pandemic.
University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust confirmed that 626 patients were discharged into care homes from its hospitals between March 1, 2020, and April 15, 2020, in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by LeicestershireLive.
Of those, just 125 were tested for coronavirus before their discharge – 14 tested positive, the remaining 111 were negative.
A note on the response stated: “Testing for all patients being discharged to care homes began on 16 April 2020 in line with national guidance.
“The care on discharge for patients who have tested negative or those whose results were inconclusive is 14 days of isolation. Patients who tested positive must isolate for 14 days from their first swab.”
A UHL spokesperson said that until April 16, testing was “not mandated for patients who were unsymptomatic” and that alternative placements were found when isolation wasn’t an option.
The shocking figure is part of a nationwide picture emerging of what happened in care homes at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said recently that care homes had been “thrown to the wolves” at the outset of the pandemic.
MPs on the committee revealed that 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes in England between mid-March and mid-April to free up hospital beds without a coronavirus test.
Ms Hillier said: “Our care homes were effectively thrown to the wolves, and the virus has ravaged some of them.
“The deaths of people in care homes devastated many, many families.
“They and we don’t have time for promises and slogans, or exercises in blame. We weren’t prepared for the first wave. Putting all else aside, Government must use the narrow window we have now to plan for a second wave. Lives depend upon getting our response right.”
Health bosses up and down the country were ordered by the Government to create as much bed space for patients suffering the life-threatening effects of the virus as it pushed its Protect the NHS message.
Leicester’s Hospitals increased intensive care capacity to create space for up to 300 patients needing the highest level of care before the local spike.
But at the height of local activity, just 57 of the beds were in use.
National guidance changed on April 16 making a Covid-19 test within the 48 hours before discharge to a care home mandatory.
Sally Ruane, chair of the Leicester Mercury Patients Panel said:
“Clearly a lot of patients were discharged into care homes in the early part of the pandemic.
“The number who were discharged with coronavirus may have been much higher than the 14 identified. What is not clear is what risk assessment was being carried out for each patient and how this risk assessment took into account the ability of care homes to provide care which kept the discharged patient, the other residents and the staff safe from possible Covid-19 infection.
“The 14-day isolation policy did not come into effect until after the period covered by these figures so we need to know what arrangements were in place between UHL and the CCGs for managing risk as patients transferred from hospital to care homes.
“And we need to know what assessments were taking place, if any, as to the ability of care home providers to give safe care.
“We know with hindsight that the care home sector has struggled and has felt under-supported. Did our care home providers feel they could speak up and raise their own concerns about safety at the time?”
A spokesperson for University Hospitals of Leicester said: “In line with national guidance, at the beginning of the pandemic, hospital Trusts across the UK discharged patients from hospital where it was possible to do so. Until April 16, testing was not mandated for patients who were unsymptomatic.
“As part of the discharge process, both before April 16 and after, self-isolation advice for positive, negative and inconclusive patients was issued to care homes to support the discharge from hospital. Where a home couldn’t isolate a patient, plans for interim bed capacity elsewhere were put in place to enable an isolation period.
“Since the April 16 update, all patients discharged to care home discharges have been tested during the 48 hours prior to discharge, as per the guidance, and we continue to advise all care homes to isolate patients for 14 days from the date of the test.”
The same Freedom of Information request was submitted to Leicestershire Partnership Trust. The trust said that 103 patients were discharged to care homes between March 1 and April 16 but a note on the response stated: “Unfortunately our electronic systems do not record this data in an extractable form.”
It went on: “We do wish to tell you that our internal protocol is to ensure all patients are tested to ensure safe discharge into care homes.”