Coronavirus in Scotland: Dozens moved to care homes after Covid diagnosis

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Woman holding senior man's handsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A quarter of Scotland's coronavirus deaths have occurred in care homes

At least 37 patients were transferred from Scottish hospitals to care homes after testing positive for coronavirus.

Official figures previously revealed 1,431 untested patients were moved between 1 March and 21 April, before pre-discharge testing became mandatory.

An investigation by the Sunday Post found at least 300 people were tested during that time.

The Scottish government said discharge decisions were taken by clinicians based on people's needs.

But opposition parties have condemned the newspaper's findings, which are based on a freedom of information request.

It revealed five of Scotland's 14 health boards confirmed positive tests were recorded prior to discharge between 1 March and 21 April.

They are:

  • NHS Ayrshire and Arran - 17
  • NHS Grampian - 7
  • NHS Tayside - 6
  • NHS Fife - 4
  • NHS Lanarkshire 3

It is unclear whether any of the patients were isolated before or after they were moved to care home, and how long before discharge they were tested.

NHS Borders said two patients were transferred three weeks after returning a positive test and were no longer infectious.

NHS Shetland, NHS Orkney, NHS Western Isles, NHS Forth Valley and NHS Dumfries and Galloway said they did not discharge any patients who had tested positive for Covid-19.

NHS Greater Glasgow said it discharged 752 patients but told the paper it would be too expensive to check records and establish how many were tested and how many came back positive.

Both NHS Lothian and NHS Highland did not respond to the Sunday Post's FoI request.

Where have Scotland's Covid-19 deaths occurred?. .  .

As of Wednesday, there have been 1,950 deaths in Scottish care homes where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The latest National Records of Scotland figures also reveal that 46% of all Scotland's coronavirus-related deaths were in care homes.

In May Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC announced the Crown Office was setting up a dedicated unit to examine the deaths of care home residents and key workers linked to Covid-19.

Police Scotland later confirmed it would support the unit by informing prosecutors.

'Beyond belief'

In the early days of the pandemic fears were raised that the NHS could become overwhelmed by cases and experts said that triggered a drive to free up up beds.

Dr Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, said for some patients transfer back to a care home from hospital would be the best clinical decision.

But he told BBC Scotland: "At the beginning of the pandemic I think it's right to say that we did not have as rigorous a process of transfer from the hospital.

"When we highlighted that matters were improved virtually immediately."

Dr Macaskill added that early changes to practice included extending the period of barrier nursing - keeping patients in their rooms - from seven to 14 days.

And he cautioned against the use of "emotive language".

Image caption,
Dr Donald Macaskill is the chief executive of Scottish Care, which represents the independent care sector

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said confirmation that patients who had tested positive for the virus were knowingly discharged to care homes is "almost beyond belief".

She added: "Why was it deemed acceptable to place infectious people into care homes that didn't have enough PPE and staff, putting vulnerable older people and those who care for them at risk?

"It's right that a human rights based public inquiry into the care home scandal will take place but we need immediate transparency from Scottish Ministers about whether they signed off on this approach, and the care homes involved must be named."

The Scottish Conservatives accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of a lack of transparency.

Donald Cameron, the party's health spokesman, said: "It is astonishing that we are only finding out what happened now after a newspaper investigation.

"The abject lack of transparency from the SNP government means we may never find out how many more people were infected when patients with Covid were sent to care homes, and the lessons we should be learning are likely to be lost.

"The families of victims have been grotesquely failed."

'Best clinical advice'

A Scottish government spokesman said patients are discharged to care homes when clinicians judge they are the best place to meet their needs.

"No evidence of any kind has been given to the government that would substantiate the serious accusation that any clinicians withheld test results and it is not acceptable if full information was not passed on," he added.

The spokesman that there has "never been guidance or policy to actively move patients unwell with Covid-19 into care homes".

And he said guidance has been clear that any individual being placed in a care home must be subject to an appropriate risk assessment and be isolated for 14 days.

The statement concluded: "All our policy decisions were based on the best clinical advice available at that time, and as we learned more about the impact of the virus, we ensured all guidance and decisions followed that changing landscape."