Nicola Sturgeon is facing new questions over her management of care homes after it emerged that patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were sent from hospitals to the facilities.
At least five health boards knowingly discharged infectious elderly patients into care homes in the early stages of the pandemic, it emerged on Sunday, as the NHS desperately tried to clear beds to prepare for an expected onslaught of coronavirus patients.
The transfers were described as “like putting a lit match to dry tinder” by a public health expert while opposition MSPs described the revelation as “astonishing” and “almost beyond belief”.
Freedom of Information responses, obtained by The Sunday Post from health boards, suggest that at least 37 patients who had tested positive were discharged to care homes. This took place across five health boards - Ayrshire and Arran, Grampian, Tayside, Fife and Lanarkshire.
Scottish Govt policy signed off by Minsters :-
Don’t test throusands of older people - send them to care homes
Patients who have been tested and found to be positive - send them to care homes
Patients in Care homes with Covid - don’t treat them in hospital
This is criminal
— Neil Findlay MSP (@NeilFindlay_MSP) August 16, 2020
Almost half of Scotland’s Covid-19 deaths have come in care homes, with official figures suggesting the country has suffered a far greater crisis in homes than the other UK nations.
It was already known that more than 1,000 patients had been sent from hospitals to care homes without having been tested for Covid-19.
Monica Lennon, Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: "Confirmation that Covid-19 positive patients were knowingly discharged to care homes is almost beyond belief.
"Why was it deemed acceptable to place infectious people into care homes that didn't have enough PPE and staff, putting vulnerable older people and those who care for them at risk?”
Donald Cameron, health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, added: “The abject lack of transparency from the SNP Government means we may never find out how many more people were infected when patients with Covid-19 were sent to care homes, and the lessons we should be learning are likely to be lost.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Lothian and NHS Highland did not disclose figures, meaning the true total of Covid-positive patients knowingly sent to care homes could be higher. Health boards in Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Dumfries and Galloway, and Forth Valley said they did not send patients who had tested positive to care homes. NHS Borders said it had discharged two patients three weeks after a positive test, meaning they were no longer infectious.
Alison Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, said: “It is quite shocking that some health boards discharged patients to care homes who had tested positive for Covid-19.
“It’s like putting a lit match to dry tinder and starting a forest fire because we know that infection control measures weren’t good in care homes, we know care homes were understaffed and we know that older people are very vulnerable to Covid-19.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said there had never been guidance or policy to actively move patients unwell with Covid-19 into care homes.
He added: "No evidence of any kind has been given to the Government that would substantiate the serious accusation that any clinicians withheld test results and it is not acceptable if full information was not passed on.
“Guidance has been clear that any individual being placed in a care home must be subject to an appropriate risk assessment and be isolated for 14 days. This is to make explicit that steps should be taken to ensure patients are screened clinically so people at risk were not transferred inappropriately.”