25 Covid-19 patients were released into care homes from Queen Alexandra Hospital as campaigners say old people were 'expendable'
PLEAS have been made to protect care homes in the second wave of Covid-19 as The News reveals 25 patients with the virus were sent to care homes from hospital as the pandemic hit.
The 25 discharged from Queen Alexandra Hospital and confirmed as having Covid were among nearly 400 released between March 1 and April 15 – with 206 placed in the community with no records held at QA of testing.
It was only on April 16 that government guidance changed, with hospital medics told to test patients before discharging them to homes.
Campaigners have told The News that government viewed care homes and older people as ‘expendable’ during this time.
It comes as a freedom of information response from QA Hospital shows that of the 398 patients discharged between March and mid-April, 58 were negative and two were inconclusive.
‘Older people were seen as expendable’
Steve Bonner, chairman of the Pompey Pensioners Association – a group calling on the city’s MPs to lobby government for change – said: ‘If lessons haven't been learnt for a second spike, heads need to roll.
‘Over the Covid-19 pandemic residential care homes have been marginalised.
‘Older people were clearly seen as expendable in an effort to free up the NHS.
‘Care homes were deprived of the protective equipment needed to keep residents safe. Care home staff have been abandoned.’
Care Quality Commission data shows the Hampshire County Council area reported the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in care homes during the pandemic of anywhere in England.
Since records began on April 10 there were a total of 450 in the area. Between July 17-23 there were 89 alone.
The last Covid death in a care home in Hampshire was August 26.
In the Portsmouth City Council area there were 39 since April 10, and there were 62 in Southampton.
Situation in home was ‘bedlam’
The manager of one city care home, who did not want to be named, said it was ‘bedlam’ and early on it was not known how many patients and staff were infected.
In the weeks to come, several staff and residents tested positive and there were multiple deaths linked to coronavirus.
She said: ‘We probably had an outbreak here really before we knew what was happening. We probably had residents here in March who were infected.
‘We had one patient who went forwards and back from QA Hospital several times in that period and we’ll never know if he picked it up there and brought it in.
‘It’s true to say when central government realised how serious it was their focus was almost exclusively on the NHS.
‘There was a discharge window that meant medically fit people had to be discharged from hospital within a few hours and it was bedlam really.
‘Someone would ring up from the discharge team and wanted us to take a resident we had never seen.
‘It’s not the fault of the hospital, I just think the pressure to get people out of those beds was so high.’
Government had faced criticism over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to homes.
‘There was a real sense as well that the hospital was well staffed and had plenty of PPE whereas we were struggling to get PPE and struggling to even get food,’ she added.
‘We struggled to have enough staff because a lot had to go off sick or had to isolate.’
The home is now able to test staff and residents regularly, although there are concerns over the turnaround time of the results.
‘Care home deaths were preventable’
The south east regional secretary for union Unison, Steve Torrance, said: ‘Many care home deaths were preventable, if only the government had acted quicker to stop the spread.
‘It did little to protect the vulnerable residents, or staff, who struggled to get adequate safety kit and regular testing.’
Liz Rix, chief nurse at Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust - which runs QA Hospital - said government guidance was followed.
She said: ‘The safety of our patients remains our absolute priority and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we have followed the national guidance for hospitals and care homes from the Department for Health and Social Care.’
Patients are now tested two days ahead of discharge.
Ms Rix said: ‘Patients at Queen Alexandra Hospital who are due to be discharged to care homes are tested for the virus within 48 hours of their planned discharge, and we follow all national guidance regarding infection prevention and control to help reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.’
Government approach ‘guided by scientific advice’
A spokeswoman for the Department for Health and Social Care, added: ‘Our approach has been guided at all times by the latest scientific advice.
‘Careful monitoring of outbreaks in care homes informed guidance issued on March 13 for the sector, which included advice on action to take around infection control and isolating residents or staff displaying symptoms.
‘We have been clear that no care home should be forced to admit an existing or new resident to the care home if they do not feel they can provide the appropriate care.’
As part of the government’s winter plan for social care a budget of £1.1bn has been ring-fenced ‘to help care providers reduce Covid-19 transmission.’
Government has also pledged to provide free PPE to care homes across England.
The 206 who ‘may have been tested’
A spokeswoman at QA said the 206 patients discharged without a record of a test ‘may have been tested at Queen Alexandra Hospital and if so, the swabs were sent offsite to Southampton Hospital to analyse’.
These results were not recorded on QA’s onsite clinical system, meaning the hospital has no record.
A spokeswoman for QA added: ‘From around March 22, 2020 some tests began to take place onsite and were recorded on our onsite clinical system (Minestrone).
‘Shortly after this date, all tests were analysed at Queen Alexandra Hospital.’