Exclusive: Hundreds discharged into south London care homes without anyone knowing if they had coronavirus

Josh Salisbury (11 November, 2020)

People being discharged from hospital could've carried coronavirus into homes without knowing it because they weren't tested

23053King's College Hospital in Denmark Hill

Hundreds of patients were discharged from south London hospitals into care homes without first being tested for coronavirus, the News can reveal.

Until April 16, national policy meant hospitals were only asked to prioritise testing patients displaying symptoms before discharge into a care home. Now all those being discharged into homes are tested.

Southwark care homes were forced to take in new residents from hospitals during the first wave, with no way of knowing if they had Covid.

“There was a very limited capacity of testing,” said Emily Gibbs, of the south east London CCG last week.

At one of the borough’s major hospital trusts, King’s College NHS Foundation Trust, 244 patients were discharged into care homes between March 1 and April 15, during the peak of the first wave.

According to FOI data, 111 of those patients weren’t tested for coronavirus before being discharged, raising the prospect of them carrying coronavirus into homes without knowing it.

Discharges from hospitals into care homes of patients with coronavirus has been attributed as one of the causes of the high death rates in homes nationally, as residents are in an extremely high risk group.

The hospital says it followed national guidance at all times, and they implemented testing before discharge in April, when it was recommended.

Officials in Southwark are now preparing for those who’ve been discharged from hospitals into care homes to be isolated for seven days, to avoid repeating the pattern of the first wave.

READ MORE: More than half of all Southwark care home coronavirus deaths occurred at Bermondsey home, report finds

“We’ve learned a lot of lessons since the first wave,” said Kirsten Watters, a consultant in public health at Southwark Council.

Speaking at a meeting last week in response to questions from a News reporter, she said: “Initially there was pressure to free up over 15,000 beds across the NHS estate, so there was a discharge from into care homes and then lots of those care homes saw outbreaks.”

Forty percent of English care homes saw an outbreak during the first wave she said, driven by “inappropriate discharging from hospitals” and general increased community transmission.

When asked if Southwark saw that happen, she said: “I think we did, but I can’t get the scale of what happened, because we don’t have that data.”

At  Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, 130 patients were discharged into care homes without a test over the same period, according to an FOI response.

Image of coronavirus tests / stock

Some of those had been admitted as a suspected or confirmed coronavirus case, but still weren’t tested before discharge because they didn’t have symptoms.

A spokesperson for King’s said: “In accordance with current guidance, all patients being discharged to care homes are tested for coronavirus.

“In some instances, patients may be discharged to a care home whilst they are still positive – if they are not displaying symptoms, for example – but only where the care home can make appropriate arrangements to isolate them.

“We are working closely with local GPs and councils to ensure that patient discharges are safe both for the individual and other care home residents.”

A spokesperson for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said their hospitals also had the same arrangements.

Southwark witnessed at least sixty coronavirus deaths in care homes during the first wave. By July 15, sixty people had sadly lost their lives to coronavirus, thirty-four of them at Tower Bridge Care Centre.

Now residents in Southwark homes are tested every 28 days, whether they have symptoms or not, to avoid transmission.

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