More than half of LNWH patients discharged to care homes did not get Covid test before government advice change
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Just over a quarter of patients discharged from north west London-based hospitals to care homes were tested for coronavirus during the peak of the pandemic, it has been revealed.
In a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, data from London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust (LNWH) showed just 32 patients out of 119 discharged from the trust between March 1 and April 15 were tested for the deadly virus.
Out of the tested patients, 14 were returned positive. The trust confirmed that in all but one case, these patients were not discharged “until at least seven days after their positive test”.
In the single case this was not done, a trust spokesperson explained the patient returned to their own home with a care plan in place for the rest of their self-isolation period.
They added: “We did discharge a small number of patients to care homes once they had recovered from Covid-19. As you would expect, these patients had a positive test for Covid-19 earlier in their admission to hospital, but that does not mean that they were positive for Covid-19 at the time of their discharge.
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“We have been working very closely with our partners in social care throughout the pandemic to discharge our patients with the right care plan for them.”
LNWH runs Northwick Park Hospital, which was one of the worst-hit sites in the country during the height of the pandemic and has recorded one of the highest number of deaths at 614 people, as of July 28.
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It also manages Ealing Hospital in Southall and Central Middlesex Hospital in Park Royal.
The trust was unable to provide a breakdown of which boroughs the patients were discharged to, but did say out of the 119 people discharged to care homes in March and the first half of April, 48 of them had been admitted to its hospitals after March 1, when the pandemic was really beginning to take hold.
Of those 48, 27 were tested. A majority of 15 tests returned negative, while 12 people were diagnosed with coronavirus.
Meanwhile, out of the additional 71 patients who were admitted to hospital before March 1, just five were tested for the disease. Of the five, two were confirmed positive cases.
Government policy on testing patients being sent to care homes changed significantly from April 16, when it then required the NHS to test all residents before they were admitted to a care home after their time in hospital.
A report published on July 29 by the Public Accounts Committee, made up of cross-party MPs, said it was an “appalling” error in allowing patients to be discharged without testing before that date.
It found that between 17 March and 15 April, 25,000 people were discharged from UK hospitals to care homes, and the government does not know how many had coronavirus.
A government spokesperson said £1.3 billion was made available to support the hospital discharge process. This was also to cover extra costs such as additional support and alternative accommodation for quarantining residents.
They added: “We have provided 172 million items of PPE to the social care sector since the start of the pandemic and are testing all residents and staff, including repeat testing for staff and residents in care homes for the over 65 or those with dementia.”
Responding to the FOI, a LNWH spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, we have worked extremely hard to minimise the risk of Covid-19 spreading in our communities.
“To this end, we have followed national guidance as closely as possible, including in respect of testing and discharging patients.
“Before 16 April, we, like trusts across the country, tested those patients who met the existing clinical criteria at that time for a Covid-19 test. Any patients who met these criteria were isolated from other patients until there was no longer a risk that they might spread the virus, or until it was confirmed that they did not have Covid-19.
“Patients who did not meet these criteria when they were admitted to hospital were monitored closely throughout their time in our care. If they showed any signs of developing symptoms of the coronavirus, they were immediately isolated from other patients and tested.
“In such cases, any planned discharge would not have gone ahead until they were beyond the infectious period.”