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Hospital trust admits to discharging patients to care homes without Covid test

The Royal Oldham Hospital.

A Greater Manchester hospital trust discharged nearly 100 patients to care homes without a Covid test during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Pennine Acute Hospital Trust – which is part of the Northern Care Alliance – sent 96 untested people to care settings between March 19 and April 15 last year.

A response to a Freedom of Information request also reveals that 18 patients who had tested positive for coronavirus were also discharged to care homes over the same period.

Of a total of 152 patients discharged, 56 were tested, of whom 38 had a negative result, according to the response which the trust took nine months to provide.

Pennine Acute is responsible for running Royal Oldham Hospital, Fairfield General Hospital and Rochdale Infirmary (including the specialist Floyd Unit). It also ran North Manchester General Hospital up to April 1, 2020.

Hospital bosses say all discharges were carried out in line with national guidance.

A spokesperson for the Northern Care Alliance said: “Thousands of patients have been safely discharged from our hospitals since the start of the pandemic last year.

“We have always followed national Covid testing guidance for staff and patients rigorously, working closely with local care homes, local authorities and CCGs to ensure that patient safety remains our first priority and that our working practices are updated to reflect any changes brought in as the pandemic has progressed.

“These figures were reported where we had discharged patients at the start of the pandemic over 18 months ago.

“Patients discharged from our hospitals to local care and residential homes have always been when the patients are well enough and done with agreement with the care homes and in full knowledge of the patient’s status, ensuring Covid-secure care can be maintained for their staff and other residents, in line with national guidance.”

The spokesperson added: “We continue to test every patient, communicating their results to the care or residential home before they are discharged, maintaining open and transparent communication to ensure the safety of all patients and health and social care staff.”

Former health secretary Matt Hancock claimed the government had put a ‘protective ring around’ care homes from the very start of the crisis.

But Whitehall has faced serious criticism for its handling of social care over those first few weeks – from shortages of personal protective equipment to allowing visitors until full lockdown at the end of March.

Care England – the leading representative body for the sector – said social care providers were left feeling ‘abandoned’.

And MPs have since described discharging patients from hospitals into care homes without first testing them for Covid-19 as ‘an appalling error’.

A report from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee said that it was ‘reckless and negligent policy’ and that the government had stuck to it ‘even once it was clear there was an emerging problem’.

On March 17 last year the NHS wrote to trusts telling them to ‘urgently discharge all hospital inpatients who are medically fit to leave’ to help free up 15,000 beds for the expected first wave of admissions.

Official guidance at the time said: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

It wasn’t until April 15 – nearly a month later –  that a  new ‘adult social care plan’ confirmed the government was moving to ‘a policy of testing all residents prior to admission to care homes’

It stated: “We are mindful that some care providers are concerned about being able to effectively isolate COVID-positive residents, and we are determined to make sure discharges into nursing or social care do not put residents currently in those settings at risk.

“We can now confirm we will move to institute a policy of testing all residents prior to admission to care homes. This will begin with all those being discharged from hospital and the NHS will have a responsibility for testing these specific patients, in advance of timely discharge.”

There were more than 4,000 coronavirus-related deaths in care homes up to April 24, 2020 according to the Care Quality Commission.

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