Committee criticises decision to discharge hospital patients to care homes without tests
The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the government’s move of discharging hospital patients to care homes without taking Covid-19 tests in the early stages of the pandemic, calling it a “reckless” decision.
The Committee added that this strategy had caused an “emerging problem” before the government “belatedly” changed official advice in April.
It highlighted that around 25,000 hospital patients were sent to care homes between the middle of March and mid-April to make more capacity available in hospitals.
Until April 15, patients were not required to test negative for Covid-19 to be discharged, with the committee calling this move an “appalling error” in its report.
The cross-party body has called for a review into which care homes took on discharged patients and how many of them went on to suffer in-house Covid-19 outbreaks by September.
Public Health England informed the committee that there was only nationwide testing capacity for 3,500 per day in the early stages of the pandemic. It added that testing had been prioritised for individuals with respiratory illnesses and those in intensive care, with testing in care homes also significantly limited at the time.
Regular testing for care home staff and residents was only introduced in early July.
Furthermore, the committee accused ministers of persisting with the policy of discharging hospital patients without testing them, even when “there was an emerging problem”.
The committee has also called for more transparency over the cost of procuring private hospital capacity and keeping the Nightingale Hospitals open, adding that NHS England had not provided “even a rough estimate” of the costs having been handed public funds.
The government’s latest funding package to help the NHS brace itself for winter will keep the Nightingale Hospitals open until March 2021.
A Department of Health & Social Care spokesperson said that the government had worked closely with the health sector and public health chiefs to keep updating guidance throughout the pandemic, adding that a further £1.3 billion had been provided to the NHS to help hasten hospital discharges as testing was brought in for care home residents and workers, including over-65s and those with complex disorders such as dementia.
Criticising the government for being “too slow” in efforts to protect the elderly and disabled, Labour shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said: ”A series of mistakes were made despite clear warnings from what was happening in other countries.”