The NHS in North West London has revealed that nearly 200 elderly hospital patients were discharged to care and residential homes during the first wave of the pandemic – without being tested for coronavirus.

During the first wave, there was a scramble in hospitals to free-up beds for an influx of patients with coronavirus who needed ventilators and intensive treatment.

In the rush to create extra intensive care capacity, elderly patients across England were discharged to care homes and residential homes.

It later came to light that some outbreaks in these homes – which led to further cases and deaths – were triggered by the arrival of patients discharged from hospitals, the vast majority of whom had not been tested.

The National Audit Office said 25,000 hospital patients were moved to care homes between March 17 and April 15. Meanwhile, 38 per cent of England’s care homes reported an outbreak between March 9 and May 17.

For the first time, the North West London division of the NHS has revealed exactly how many patients were moved to care homes before April 15, when NHS England and the Department of Health ordered that prior testing should be mandatory.

A response to a Freedom of Information request by the North West London Clinical Commission Group (CCG) showed that 186 patients were moved between mid March and April 15. The CCG said it did “not hold information” on how many of these patients, if any, were tested.

That figure relates to hospitals and homes across the eight London boroughs in north west London, including Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith & Fulham, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster.

Between April 15 and May 31, a further 301 patients were discharged to homes, but in these cases the patients were tested first, the CCG said.

Data the CCG provided shows that the number of patients discharged to care homes in each borough roughly correlates with the size of the local population. The figures also correlate with the Office for National Statistics’ records of how many people died in care homes in each borough.

In Ealing, 33 care home residents were killed by the virus between mid April and the end of May. In Hammersmith & Fulham there were 18. While in Kensington & Chelsea, the smallest borough in London, there were five deaths.

Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter said: “Discharging residents into care homes from hospitals without testing for Covid-19 was one of the biggest errors of the first lockdown. These figures show that almost 200 people were discharged in north-west London alone, many thousands across the country.”

Mr Slaughter said the Department of Health was ultimately responsible for the problems and that he hoped “lessons have been learned”.

Jim Grealy, a leading campaigner from Hammersmith and Fulham Save Our NHS, said that many local councils “began asking early in April that patients without testing should not be sent into care homes, in effect challenging Matt Hancock [the Health Secretary]”.

He added: “It is clear that nobody should have been sent into a care home without a test because patients in those homes are amongst the most vulnerable people in the country. We are not impressed by statements from the government claiming that they acted in the safest manner.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.

“We are absolutely clear all patients will be tested on discharge from hospital, and must have their result prior to admission to a care home. No care home should be forced to admit an existing or new resident if they do not feel they can provide the appropriate care.

“Our ambition is for every local authority to have access to at least one CQC designated accommodation as soon as possible and we will continue to work with the CQC, the NHS and local authorities. Funding is available this year to support the discharge process and to continue enhanced discharge arrangements over winter.”

Mr Grealy also said the mistakes showed that decisions in the NHS should be taken in consultation with people who have “local knowledge”. And said the CCG – which has undergone a merger from eight separate bodies for each borough in north and west London – should be more open to discussing policies with local politicians and groups such as his.

In Hammersmith and Fulham, councillors sought to stop hospitals from discharging patients into local care homes once they realised the danger.

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