Why we can’t tell you how many coronavirus patients were sent to care homes locally
- Credit: PA
OPINION: The discharging of thousands of hospital patients into care homes at the height of the pandemic, without testing them, is emerging as one of the biggest disasters of the coronavirus crisis.
The discharging of thousands of hospital patients into care homes at the height of the pandemic, without testing them, is emerging as one of the biggest disasters of the coronavirus crisis.
Because of that nobody wants to take responsibility for it.
The hospitals which discharged them say they were following national guidelines.
The government says it was a decision made by clinicians.
A letter from the head of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, on March 17 urged all hospitals to “urgently” discharge patients who were “medically fit to leave”.
It meant thousands of beds were freed up for coronavirus patients.
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But it also meant that nationally, from mid-March to mid-April, 25,000 patients were sent from hospitals to care homes without being tested for Covid-19.
Why did it take three weeks into lockdown, on April 15, before those going from hospitals to care homes were tested?
We don’t know how many patients carried coronavirus into care homes.
We also don’t know what the local picture is because NHS England will not provide a breakdown of the figures.
But we do know care homes became and still are the epicentre of the pandemic.
Even once testing of patients going into care homes began, government guidance still meant they were being moved before they got their test results.
That guidance has now only just changed meaning patients have to wait in hospitals for results.
Knowing where those 25,000 patients were discharged to is important.
Care homes in some parts of the country, notably Suffolk, have been much worse affected than others.
Is this because more untested hospital patients were discharged into them?
To answer that question we need to know how many were discharged to care homes, how many were tested and how many tested positive.
We asked our local hospitals and NHS England for those figures this week.
NHS England directed us to the national figures, which has no local numbers.
The James Paget Hospital has not responded. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital did not provide any figures but said they followed national guidance when discharging patients.
That means an unknown number were put into care homes without being tested. Alex Stewart, head of patient group Healthwatch Norfolk, said that data should be released to give people a better understanding of the issues faced by care homes.
Ipswich Hospital, Colchester Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital also did not provide any data and said they too were following national guidance.
Elsewhere in the country, in Birmingham, the local hospital has told the public and local paper the figures.
We would like to tell you that number too and have requested this information from the hospitals through the Freedom of Information Act.
•Tom Bristow and Emily Townsend are investigations journalists for the EDP and EADT. You can contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org