Calls are growing for a public inquiry to be held into the discharge of dozens of Covid-19-positive patients into care homes from hospitals across Scotland.
Scottish opposition parties have rounded on the Scottish Government in light of a new report that revealed 78 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in hospital were discharged to care homes between March 1 and April 21.
The report, published by Public Health Scotland on Wednesday, showed that only 650 of the 3,599 elderly patients discharged from hospital during this period had been tested.
It also details that, between April 21 and May 31, a further 278 hospital patients who had previously tested positive for the virus were discharged to care homes, with 233 receiving a negative test prior to discharge, suggesting 45 did not.
Scottish Conservative Holyrood leader Ruth Davidson reiterated calls for a public inquiry into the “scandal” to begin “without further delay”.
She said: “This is a time for contrition, not a selective and complacent interpretation of decisions that saw many elderly people die.
“It is now more important than ever to know what the First Minister and her health secretary knew and when. That’s why we need the public inquiry into this scandal to begin without further delay.”
‘Russian roulette strategy’
Scottish Labour health and social care spokeswoman Monica Lennon branded the decision to move patients with Covid-19 into care homes as “reckless” and claimed Scottish ministers must be held to account for this “Russian roulette strategy”.
The MSP has asked the Lord Advocate and Police Scotland to investigate how this happened and said it is “right that a public inquiry is launched as soon as possible” into the decisions made by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.
She added: “Covid-19-positive or untested patients should never have been discharged from hospital into care homes, but Scottish Government guidance from March 13 left the door open for this to occur.
“The subsequent consequences for Scotland’s care home population is a national scandal.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it “sends a chill down the spine” to find out that thousands more were admitted without a single test.
He added: “This report should not be the end of the investigation.
“Families and staff deserve so much more. We need a public inquiry into this and the wider handling of the pandemic.”
Speaking during her daily Covid-19 briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the report concludes that, allowing for other factors, such as the size of a care home, “hospital discharges were not found to have contributed to a significantly higher risk of an outbreak”.
Ms Sturgeon said Public Health Scotland will now carry out further work to give a more detailed understanding of Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes.
She pledged: “Where the report’s conclusions highlight the need for additional measures, we will act on that.
“I want people to know we take this very seriously.”
The statisticians behind the report said the data show the percentage of care homes with an outbreak “increased progressively” with care home size, from 3.7% of care homes with fewer than 20 registered places to 90.2% of care homes with more than 90 registered places.
Public Health Scotland concluded there was no “statistical evidence” that hospital discharges were associated with Covid-19 outbreaks.
However, it has acknowledged it is likely that hospital discharges were the source of introduction of infection in a small number of cases.
Report ‘grim reading’
It was not until April 21 that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced a policy change that introduced a requirement for negative tests before patients could be moved to care homes.
Age Scotland chief executive Brian Sloan said the report will make “grim reading” for families who lost loved ones in care homes and said that knowingly discharging patients into care homes following positive tests will “certainly not have helped control the spread of the virus”, adding that doing so seems “irresponsible at best”.
He added: “The report raises a number of further questions, such as whether we know the true number of positive cases on hospital discharge in the early weeks and months of this pandemic, as so few were tested.
“It was only after testing before discharge was ordered by the Health Secretary that death rates in care homes began to fall.”
Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice spokesman Alan Wightman, whose mother Helen died in a Fife care home in May after contracting the virus, said care homes suffered from a “lack of forward planning” by government, adding that “clearly putting people that are Covid-19 positive into care homes is going to lead to deaths”.
Mr Wightman, who lives in Forfar, said there has been a “complete lack of foresight and leadership” in the handling of the pandemic, with care homes having “paid the highest price”.
He added that Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice, of which he is a member, has tried to engage with both UK and Scottish governments but has experienced a lack of willingness.
He said: “Clearly putting people that are Covid-19 positive into care homes is going to lead to deaths.
“That report doesn’t tell us very much about how we’re going to improve.”
North-east Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles described the situation as a “shocking dereliction of duty to the most vulnerable people in our society”.
He added: “Over and over again we warned the Scottish Government that there should be a robust and regular testing system in place for all care home residents and staff, in order to avoid this very situation.
“The first minister should set the record straight, take full responsibility for the terrible harm that has been caused to families across the country and most importantly ensure that this kind of mistake never happens again.”