NHS trusts deny discharging elderly Covid patients to care homes

Hospital leaders in England have sought to dispel the idea that they discharged patients with coronavirus from wards into care homes, as arguments escalate over the high level of fatalities among elderly residents.

NHS Providers, which represents hospital, ambulance, community and mental health leaders, said in a report published on Tuesday that health trusts had gone to great lengths to support care homes.

Trust leaders “deeply resented” the notion that their organisations “systematically and knowingly” discharged patients with Covid-19 to the care home sector, the report added.

Social care organisations argue that the government and NHS providers prioritised the NHS at the expense of care homes in England, which were left struggling to access tests or protective equipment such as masks. In addition care homes and social care providers have claimed they have had difficulties accessing £3.2bn of funding provided to local authorities to help.

The virus has torn through care homes for the elderly, which now account for around 40 per cent of all deaths. In the early days of the crisis, the government failed to include the sector in its daily statistics of Covid-19 deaths, while a lack of testing meant it was unclear how many care home residents had died of the virus.

NHS Providers said trust leaders had responded quickly to the risk of discharging asymptomatic Covid-19 patients into care homes, long before the government announced that they would have to test every patient before discharge.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said a public inquiry would be needed to establish why mortality in care homes had been so high. But she suggested inadequate levels of testing and personal protective equipment had “hit the care sector particularly hard and remain problematic”.

Ms Cordery pointedly noted that the sector had suffered from years of under-investment “despite repeated government promises to resolve the crisis in social care”. She added that the NHS, meanwhile, had done everything it could to respond to the challenge presented by the pandemic, including working closely with colleagues in the care sector to provide support.

“It is a damaging and mistaken belief that trusts knowingly and systematically discharged Covid-19 patients into care homes,” she said.

In its report, NHS Providers said that during the “crucial period” between March 19 — when discharge guidance was published — and April 15, when health secretary Matt Hancock announced that all patients discharged from hospital would be tested for coronavirus, “the vast majority of patients discharged from hospitals did not go to care homes. Instead they were discharged to other settings such as community hospitals, or to their home with support from carers, as advised in the national guidance”.

Trusts only discharged known or suspected Covid-19 patients to a care home if the facility agreed it had the capacity to treat and isolate this type of patient, the report said.

In a separate development, Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents care homes, said some local authorities had not even responded to requests from his struggling members for a share of the £3.2bn funding. The organisation is calling for the state money to be paid directly to providers’ bank accounts.

“Financial aid from government is not only welcome, but in fact essential; however allocating it via local authorities hasn’t been successful,” he said.

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