The decision to allow hospital patients to be discharged to care homes without a coronavirus test has been labelled an “appalling error” by MPs.
A highly-critical report from the Public Accounts Committee said described the policy as “reckless”, accusing ministers of “belatedly” changing track in April and being too slow to support social care during the crisis.
The cross-party committee said that around 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes in England between mid-March and mid-April to free up hospital beds.
A negative test for Covid-19 was initially not required before discharging patients, before the government eventually said on 15 April that all patients moving to care homes would be tested.
Committee chair Meg Hillier, speaking to the BBC, admitted that data about the virus had been initially limited, but also lashed out at the health department for a long-standing lack of understanding about how the care workers said.
She said: “The fact that there are people on low pay not taking sick leave, moving from home to home were things that were risk elements – if you had better understanding of any impact of any disease on a care home you would have understood the implications.”
‘Too slow to act’
The committee urged the government to review which care homes took discharged patients, and how many went on to have outbreaks, by September.
Giving evidence before the committee, Public Health England said nationwide testing capacity was limited to 3,500 tests per day at the start of the crisis – with priority going to those in intensive care and people with respiratory illnesses.
However, MPs said, untested patients continued to be discharged “even once it was clear there was an emerging problem”. Regular testing for staff and residents in care homes in England was only instigated earlier this month.
Committee members also said the costs of building England’s Nightingale hospitals lacked transparency and “are also not yet known”. The temporary hospitals are due to be maintained until the end of March 2021, in a bid to help the NHS prepare for winter.
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said the report showed the government “was too slow to act to protect older and disabled people”.
The Labour MP told the BBC: “A series of mistakes were made despite clear warnings from what was happening in other countries.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it was “working closely with the sector and public health experts” to develop its policies throughout the “unprecedented global pandemic”.