UK

Fury as elderly Scots patients with coronavirus to be sent to care homes

Elderly hospital patients infected with coronavirus will still be sent into care homes despite assurances they would first need a negative test result, the Sunday Mail can reveal.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman is facing a furious backlash after admitting the shocking practice – believed to have contributed to deadly outbreaks during the first wave of the pandemic – is still allowed under her official guidelines.

Government guidance, updated last month, states patients who test positive for Covid-19 could still be moved back into care homes.

There are currently 141 homes – 13 per cent of Scotland’s total – fighting coronavirus infections, according to figures released yesterday, with 2156 residents having died since the pandemic began in March.

When asked to ensure no Covid-19 positive patients were being sent to care homes, Freeman conceded it was still allowed if it was “in the clinical interests of the person to be moved”.

In response to a question from Labour’s Monica Lennon, Freeman said: “Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland guidance states a presumption that everyone being admitted to a care home should have a negative test before admission, unless it is in the clinical interests of the person to be moved.

“This clinically led decision is for exceptional circumstances and after a full risk assessment, consulting the resident, family and care home on what is right for the individual and putting appropriate mitigating actions and support in place.”

Opposition politicians and the families of care home residents have reacted with anger and disbelief to Freeman’s statement.

Caroline Grattan, 56, believes the death of her mum, Margaret Johnston, from coronavirus occurred because she was put at greater risk from infected patients being transferred into her care home from hospital.

Caroline Grattan has complained to care chiefs after her mum Margaret Johnston died of Covid-19 at The Orchard Care Home in Tullibody

Margaret, 88, died in the Orchard Care Centre in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, in May after contracting Covid-19.

Caroline is planning legal action against the home’s owners, HC-One, over the belief her mum was put at greater risk by hospital discharges. Asked about concerns that infected patients will still be transferred to homes, she said: “I can’t believe this. It’s disgusting. We are going to lose more people and the deaths will escalate. My mum and all the other residents who died should still be here.

“My mum was fit and healthy until they sent the hospital patients into care homes.”

Caroline has alerted law firm Leigh Day, which is investigating potential legal action against HC-One on behalf of victims’ families.

In response, HC-One said they have the “utmost sympathy for the distress and loss that has been felt by so many in recent months” and would refer any legal claim to their insurers.

Sonia Dixon, 37, whose 100-year-old great-grandmother Doreen Tilly is in a care home in Glenrothes, said: “I am genuinely shocked and disgusted that this could still be happening. It feels like no lessons have been learned and we are repeating all the same mistakes.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman

“I have had to watch my gran deteriorate rapidly over the past eight months while only being allowed a half-hour outdoor visit a week, which is completely unacceptable. Meanwhile the government is continuing to allow people known to be infected with coronavirus to be sent in the back door of care homes.

“I have no reason to believe this is happening at my gran’s home, but it is shocking to think that it could be happening anywhere. It is disgraceful.

Labour’s Lennon said: “This is an astonishing admission from the Health Secretary.

“It is difficult to imagine what possible clinical reason there could be for sending someone with Covid-19 to a care home when we know just how dangerous that can be for other residents.

“When you consider the heartbreak being suffered by care home residents and their families who have been separated now for eight months, it is disgraceful to think that the Scottish Government could still be knowingly allowing infected patients to be sent to care homes.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron added: “It beggars belief that the SNP’s Health Secretary cannot confirm that this controversial policy won’t continue.

Donald Cameron called for an inquiry

“Our care homes have been badly let down by the SNP during this pandemic, and ministers cannot allow this to happen again. As a matter of urgency, the Health Secretary must confirm if any Covid positive patients are still being sent to care homes, and also whether she will respect Parliament’s vote to hold an immediate public inquiry into the matter.”

Scottish Greens health spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: “This policy could lead to further deaths and I would ask the Scottish Government to review it as a matter of urgency.”

Cathie Russell, of the Care Home Residents Scotland Group, said: “We were given an absolute assurance that nobody would be discharged to a care home without having given two negative test results.

“I would be horrified if it was now the case that we are sending people known to be infected into care homes, given that families have now been locked out since March.”

Deaths in care homes have accounted for 42 per cent of Covid-related deaths in Scotland. In October, a Health Protection Scotland report revealed dozens of patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were transferred from Scottish hospitals to care homes.

Orchard Care Centre where Margaret Johnston died

Only 650 of the total 3599 elderly patients discharged from hospital in the period before April 21 had been tested. Despite this, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted there was “no statistical evidence” that hospital discharges led to care home outbreaks.

Freeman issued new guidance on April 21 that anyone being admitted to a care home should first have to give two negative test results. But guidance from Health Protection
Scotland issued quietly on October 13 appears to have reintroduced a loophole.

It states: “The Cabinet Secretary’s statement on April 21 stated that the following groups should be screened – All Covid-19 patients in hospital who are to be admitted to a care home and all other admissions to care homes.”

But it then adds: “The presumption should be that residents being admitted to a care home should have a consented PCR (Covid) test before or on admission unless it is in the clinical interests of the person to be moved and a risk assessment can support this; local Health Protection Teams can advise in more complex situations.”

Our report, two days before Freeman changed the rules on testing, exposed leaked documents showing staff at Newcarron Court in Falkirk had activated emergency contingency plans to deal with positive patients who were “highly likely” to be arriving from local hospitals. At the time, the home’s owner, Advinia Health Care, confirmed it was helping hospitals with “capacity issues”.

Scottish Government figures published yesterday revealed care home outbreaks have remained a huge problem in the second wave of the virus.

In the week November 9 to 15, there were 296 new confirmed positive Covid-19 cases among care home residents, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 5486 since March 9.

Dr Lewis Morrison, chair of British Medical Association Scotland, said: “Care home placement will be appropriate for these elderly patients,but it must be done in a Covid safe way and previous mistakes must not be repeated.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Any decision about whether a patient is ready for discharge is a clinical decision, made by health and social care professionals alongside the patient and their family. Where they are best looked after if they need care after discharge is based on an assessment of individual’s needs and wishes.”

Meanwhile, a care home yesterday said 20 of its residents had died in a month – thought to be the worst outbreak in the second wave. The death toll at Caledonian Care home in Larbert, near Falkirk, first emerged on November 4 when it was confirmed six had died.

Operators Care UK said: “We are working closely with NHS Forth Valley and Falkirk Heath and Social Care Partnership to minimise the risk of further infection.”




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