North Wales health board discharged more than 300 patients into care homes without coronavirus tests
A health board which released 325 people into care homes without testing them for Covid-19 says it was following “Welsh Government guidance”.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board gave the figures via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request tabled by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).
It revealed the board released “332 people into care, residential or nursing homes” between March 1 and April 15 this year, as it made space in hospitals for an expected surge in Covid-19 patients.
Only seven of those were tested for the infection – all of them testing negative – leaving 325 people sent to residential care settings with their Covid status unknown.
Welsh Government guidance dictating everyone discharged into care homes should be tested for coronavirus was only received by Betsi Cadwaladr on April 22.
As part of the FOI response Betsi Cadwaladr said: “BCUHB have followed Welsh Government guidance throughout the course of the pandemic.
“Guidance issued by Welsh Government on April 8, 2020, required Health Boards to notify care homes of the results of any patients who had previously had a test for Covid-19, either at the time of transfer from hospital to a care home, or in a ‘timely manner’ thereafter.
“This guidance did not set out that negative tests were required prior to transfer or admission into a residential care bed.”
It added it had complied with all Welsh Government guidance.
Welsh Government said it had been guided by the “latest scientific and medical advice”.
Politicians and care advocates have condemned the policy.
Care Forum Wales chair Mario Kreft said he was “horrified but not surprised”.
He told the LDRS: “It’s clear the health board were following official guidance.
“Sadly, it’s equally clear that guidance was fatally flawed.
“This did not just happen in North Wales because this disastrous approach was repeated across Wales.
“While it was understandable Welsh Government wanted to clear the decks to make room for the deluge of Covid patients, this was done at the expense of care homes.
“It placed vulnerable care home residents directly in the firing line.
“Once the virus got into care homes it spread like wildfire with catastrophic consequences which saw many residents die unnecessarily before their time.
“We’re not saying this with the benefit of hindsight.
“Right from the onset of this pandemic, Care Forum Wales launched a campaign to shield social care and save lives.”
Mr Kreft said Welsh Government was wrong not to fully consult with the care sector before implementing the policy.
He added: “If we had been consulted properly, I am convinced many more lives would have been saved.
“At the time we said care homes were being treated like collateral damage and tragically that indeed proved to be the case.”
Conservative MS for Clwyd South, Darren Millar, said the figures highlighted the “blasé” attitude of Welsh Government to older people at the start of the pandemic.
He added: “Failing to test these residents posed an unnecessary and avoidable risk to care home staff and residents and we deserve to know whether the Covid outbreaks and deaths which subsequently occurred in North Wales’ care homes were linked to these discharges.
“Those responsible for choosing not to test these patients must be held responsible for any harm their decisions caused.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have been clear about the importance of being guided by the latest scientific and medical advice – this has informed our testing policy.
“We extended testing to people being discharged from hospital to a care home, for those being transferred between care homes and for new admissions from the community when the evidence changed on 22 April.
“Our testing policy has been revised subsequently in line with the changing evidence, as the world learns more about coronavirus.
“We continually review and update our policy on testing in care homes in response to emerging scientific evidence.
“The safety and protection of the most vulnerable people in our communities is central to the Welsh Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
By Jez Hemming – Local Democracy Reporter
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