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Elderly hospital patients with COVID-19 symptoms were discharged into care homes WITHOUT tests

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, told MPs today that elderly hospital patients who had coronavirus symptoms were discharged into care homes without being tested

Elderly hospital patients who had coronavirus symptoms were discharged into care homes without being tested despite warnings from around the world the crisis could grip the sector, industry bosses revealed today.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, told MPs the decision may be partly to blame for allowing COVID-19 to race through homes and kill more than 10,000 residents.

Routine testing for those with symptoms was abandoned on March 12, when the Government shifted to its ‘delay’ phase, with swabs reserved for critically ill hospital patients and NHS staff. 

Professor Green said emphasis on saving the NHS led to elderly people with underlying health conditions – the most at risk of dying from the disease – being abandoned.

Prioritising hospitals over care homes also resulted in residents having their medical support cut off and PPE supplies for the sector being disrupted, according to Professor Green.

He told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee today that ‘very clear national strategy’ was now needed from Government to prevent more waves of the virus ravaging the sector.  

Adelina Comas-Herrera, assistant research fellow at the London School of Economics, told the committee that there was ‘plenty of evidence’ in March that care homes could be devastated by the crisis. 

She said US research had shown that coronavirus patients were regularly asymptomatic, highlighting the need for stringent testing. 

It comes as an Office for National Statistics report revealed today that at least 11,000 COVID-19 deaths occurred in England and Wales. However this is a modest estimate because it does not include care home deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland or residents who were moved to hospital before they passed away.

Researchers at the London School of Economics estimate at least 22,000 care home residents have died with coronavirus – half of the UK’s overall fatalities.

Meanwhile, a damning Government study leaked today also revealed that untested temporary staff may have been inadvertently spreading the illness in the sector’s scramble to fill vacancies left by workers in self-isolation.

It comes as a furious blame game erupted today when MPs slammed the Government’s coronavirus testing as ‘inadequate’ – but Public Health England pointed the finger at Matt Hancock.

An Office for National Statistics report revealed today that at least 11,000 COVID-19 deaths occurred in England and Wales

An Office for National Statistics report revealed today that at least 11,000 COVID-19 deaths occurred in England and Wales

However this is a modest estimate because it does not include care home deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland or residents who were moved to hospital before they passed away

However this is a modest estimate because it does not include care home deaths in Scotland and Northern Ireland or residents who were moved to hospital before they passed away

Professor Green told the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee today: ‘We should’ve been focusing on care homes from the start of this pandemic. 

‘What we saw at the start was a focus on the NHS which meant care homes often had their medical support from the NHS withdrawn. We also had the disruption of our supply chains for PPE.

‘We also saw people being discharged from hospital when we didn’t have the testing regime up and running. So despite what’s been said, there were cases of people who either didn’t have a covid 19 status, or who were symptomatic, who were discharged into care homes.

‘Now given that care homes are full of people with underlying health conditions, I think we should’ve looked at focusing on where the people at most risk were, rather than thinking about a particular organisation.’

Experts in Hong Kong, where not a single care home COVID-19 death has been recorded, told the committee one of the keys to their success was quarantining elderly hospital patients for three months before sending them back to care homes. 

Professor Terry Lum, head of social work and social administration at Hong Kong University, told the committee: ‘We do a very good job in isolation. So once we have any person infected, we isolate that person in hospital for three months.

Professor Terry Lum, head of social work and social administration at Hong Kong University, told the committee how positive COVID-19 cases were isolated for three months in Hong Kong.

The committee was chaired by former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt

Professor Terry Lum (left), head of social work and social administration at Hong Kong University, told the committee (chaired by former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, right) how positive COVID-19 cases were isolated for three months in Hong Kong.

MPs SLAM GOVERNMENT’S ‘INADEQUATE’ TESTING STRATEGY

A furious blame game erupted today as MPs slammed the Government’s coronavirus testing as ‘inadequate’ – but Public Health England pointed the finger at Matt Hancock.

A Science and Technology Committee inquiry found hospital staff, care home workers and residents were put at risk because of a lack of capacity for screening ‘when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant’.

Routine testing for those with symptoms was abandoned on March 12, when the government shifted to its ‘delay’ phase, with checks reserved for hospital patients and health staff.

But the cross-party MPs said the failure to ramp up testing for the disease was the ‘most consequential’ error in the crisis, and crippled efforts to trace, track and isolate Britons with the disease.

The ability to detect and crack down on cases is seen as crucial to getting the economy up and running, with unions warning workplaces and schools cannot be safe until the regime in in place.

The committee hit out at Public Health England for the ‘pivotal decision’ to shun smaller labs and failure to make a ‘rigorous assessment’ of countries such as South Korea and Germany that had successfully ramped up testing.

But PHE chief Duncan Selbie shot back that it was ‘not responsible’ for the testing strategy, which ‘has been led by the Department of Health and Social Care’.

He insisted ‘any testing facility with the right technology and containment’ could have carried out checks after security restrictions were lowered on March 3. 

‘But at the same time we isolate all the close-contact people into separate isolation centres, quarantine centres, for 14 days for observation, and they did a test regularly within the 14 days to make sure they don’t have the virus.

‘So we did a very extensive isolation for both people who are infected as well as close contact.’   

Hong Kong also employed one infection control expert in every care home to make sure preventative measures were being implemented, Professor Lum said.

He also highlighted the importance of PPE, saying the city made it compulsory for all residents and staff to wear masks in January. 

It comes as a damning Government study suggested temporary care workers helped to fuel Britain’s coronavirus crisis in care homes.

Agency staff working in multiple homes may have unwittingly infected thousands of elderly and vulnerable residents without being tested for the virus.

In some cases ‘bank workers’ – used to fill temporary vacancies – were standing in for full-time carers who were self-isolating to protect the residents. 

Public Health England researchers analysing the virus’ genome traced outbreaks in London care homes back to the temporary workers.

Ministers have had access to the results since at least the end of last month but they were only shared with care home bosses last week, it emerged today. 

The government is facing scathing criticism over claims it abandoned care homes in its scramble to protect the NHS from the infection.

Experts estimate 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales alone may have died with coronavirus – but the true scale of the crisis is unknown because of a lack of routine testing.

A care home chief today blamed delayed advice and testing during a ‘critical’ period for allowing COVID-19 to spread throughout homes. 

Four in 10 care homes in England have suffered suspected or confirmed coronavirus outbreaks, Number 10 confirms 

Four out of 10 care homes in England reported outbreaks of coronavirus, according to the Prime Minister’s office.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said data currently shows 5,889 care homes have reported a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 outbreak during the pandemic.

This amounted to 38 per cent of all the homes in England, he said, and 343 of them had reported cases in the past seven days. 

Office for National Statistics data shows that more than 12,500 care home residents died with coronavirus in March and April.

It is unclear how many people have been infected in homes because they have not been offered routine testing, meaning many have either recovered or died without a test to confirm that they had the virus.

The ONS shows that care home residents have made up an increasing proportion of people dying because of the virus as the outbreak has gone on.

Overall, around 37 per cent of all the 33,841 COVID-19 deaths recorded in March and April happened in nursing homes.

In the week ending May 1, care home deaths accounted for 40 per cent of the total, while hospital deaths made up 53 per cent.

Two weeks earlier, however (April 11 to 17) this split was 23 per cent and 70 per cent. 

And in the week ending April 3, just five per cent of deaths happened in care homes, compared to 89 per cent in hospitals. 

The unpublished PHE study, seen by the Guardian, analysed the behaviour of the virus in six care homes in London from April 11 to April 13, over Easter weekend.

Results of the research were handed to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) at the end of last month.

But the findings were only circulated last week to care home providers, councils and local public health directors – fuelling allegations care homes were left in the lurch. 

The study warned: ‘Infection is spreading from care home to care home, linked to changed patterns of staffing, working across and moving between homes.’

It said the agency staff were often asymptomatic, which meant ‘by the time local health protection teams are informed of an outbreak substantial transmission may already have occurred.’

Care homes were hugely reliant on bank staff at the peak of the crisis in April, when a quarter of the workforce were self-isolating. 

Documents seen by the Guardian show that on April 30, DHSC bosses drafted plans to introduce new infection prevention and control measures in care homes. 

It followed a surge of 4,300 care home deaths in two weeks in England and Wales and measures included minimising temporary carers’ movements between homes.  

But these new guidelines were not published until last Thursday – a fortnight later. 

DHSC told the newspaper it would not comment on the leaked study, adding that it would be published shortly. 

But it claimed that it began drafting new guidance as soon as it received the results from PHE.  

‘We are working around the clock to make sure care homes, and our frontline social care workforce, are getting the support they need to protect their residents and tackle coronavirus,’ a spokesperson said. 

‘Our help to care homes, which includes financial support, infection control training and supplies of PPE, has meant that two-thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all.’

Researchers at the London School of Economics estimate at least 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales have died with coronavirus

Researchers at the London School of Economics estimate at least 22,000 care home residents in England and Wales have died with coronavirus

Barchester Healthcare chief executive Dr Pete Calveley, who said around two thirds of his homes have had COVID-19 cases, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We’ve had several weeks where their first reaction was to protect the NHS, where they wanted to discharge a lot of clients from hospital to make sure there was capacity for what they anticipated was a surcharge. 

‘And that meant a lot of people being discharged from care homes rather quickly who hadn’t been tested and often we’ve seen where we’ve been doing large testing of care homes where asymptomatic staff, and particularly residents, are actually positive and therefore are freely moving through the home are infecting other residents and staff without anybody knowing about it until too late.’ 

Dr Calveley said there was a ‘critical’ period of up to four weeks before testing was available and advice was issued for staff to wear professional masks and isolation for new admissions. ‘None of that advice came out until it was probably too late,’ he said. 

Labour’s Liz Kendall, the shadow care secretary, said: ‘The prevalence of zero-hours contracts, high vacancy rates and high staff turnover have fuelled the reliance on agency and bank staff with all the problems that brings. 

‘We need a fundamental rethink of social care as we emerge from this pandemic, and an essential part of this must be to ensure that care workers get the pay, status and career progression this vital sector deserves.’

Meanwhile, a furious blame game erupted today as a Cabinet minister claimed government coronavirus blunders were down to ‘wrong’ science advice.

Therese Coffey insisted the government had just been following the guidance from experts as she fended off damning criticism from MPs over ‘inadequate’ testing.

The Science and Technology Committee found hospital staff, care home workers and residents were put at risk because of a lack of capacity for screening ‘when the spread of the virus was at its most rampant’.

But the cross-party MPs said the failure to ramp up testing for the disease was the ‘most consequential’ error in the crisis, and crippled efforts to trace, track and isolate Britons with the disease.

Anger is also rising on the Tory backbenches, with one MP likening the response to a Morecambe and Wise comedy sketch.

Ms Coffey appeared to pass the buck again in a round of interviews this morning. Pushed on whether the government had made mistakes, she told Sky News that ministers could ‘only make judgements and decisions based on the information and advice that we have at the time’. ‘If the science advice at the time was wrong I am not surprised people think we made the wrong decision,’ she said.

The extraordinary comment comes after the incoming president of the Royal Society, Sir Adrian Smith, warned politicians against putting blame on to scientists.

The ability to detect and crack down on cases is seen as crucial to getting the economy up and running, with unions warning workplaces and schools cannot be safe until the regime in in place.

The committee hit out at Public Health England for the ‘pivotal decision’ to shun smaller labs and failure to make a ‘rigorous assessment’ of countries such as South Korea and Germany that had successfully ramped up testing.

But PHE chief Duncan Selbie shot back that it was ‘not responsible’ for the testing strategy, which ‘has been led by the Department of Health and Social Care’.

He insisted ‘any testing facility with the right technology and containment’ could have carried out checks after security restrictions were lowered on March 3.

GMB’s Piers Morgan also berated Ms Coffey for mistakenly claiming that 100,000 people had been tested on a ‘handful’ of days. In fact, while the government says it has hit the 100,000 tests a day target, the number of people checked is lower as many need to be done more than once for clinical reasons.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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