More than 4,000 people were discharged from hospital into care homes without being tested for COVID-19 around the peak of the pandemic, figures obtained by Sky News reveal.
The data from NHS Trusts shows two thirds of elderly patients discharged hadn’t had a coronavirus test.
A total of 6,435 elderly patients were discharged between 19 March and 15 April, with 2,225 being tested and 4,210 not receiving a test.
Of those who were tested, 623 people had a positive result before being sent to care homes.
It is not known if they were still positive when they were discharged.
The discharges took place when there was a national push to free up hospital beds.
The original guidance didn’t require patients to have a negative test result.
It was updated on 15 April when testing became a requirement for people being discharged into care homes.
Sky News has shared the findings with campaigners who have lost loved ones during the pandemic.
Charlie Williams’s father Rex, 85, died with COVID-19 while in a care home.
He described the figures as “shocking”.
“Our country’s most vulnerable were absolutely left exposed. Patients flooded our care homes and the result is thousands and thousands dead across the country,” Mr Williams said.
One care home director in Yorkshire refused to take patients who hadn’t been tested.
Konrad Czajka runs five homes in the Yorkshire area.
He told Sky News the discharge policy was “disastrous”.
Mr Czajka added: “People who have COVID-19 should be, in my view, nursed in hospitals or in specialist units. To bring people into a nursing or residential setting when somebody is suffering with coronavirus puts the safety of all the other residents at risk, and the staff too.”
The family of Kathleen Keenan, 84, who died with COVID-19 are angry with the policy.
Kathleen had tested positive while in hospital and was sent back to her care home.
Helen Keenan, her daughter, said: “They were like fodder on the infantry line – ‘just get rid of all of those, we’re not saving them because we haven’t got enough resources or time’.”
The figures show Kathleen is one of 12 patients discharged from Walsall Manor Hospital with coronavirus.
Ms Keenan believes the discharge policy cost lives. She wants action taken to protect elderly people in care homes in the future.
Ms Keenan said: “I can’t do anything for my mum except honour her memory and ask for an apology for what happened to her, because she deserved far better than she got, and I don’t want any other family to be in the same situation as we are and other families are. It’s atrocious.”
Patients are now tested before being discharged into care homes.
Kate Terroni, the chief inspector for adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, said there are “challenges” within the system.
She added: “It is really important when people are discharged from hospital into care homes that the care home has all the information they need about testing completed and test results and how that person should be cared for.”
A Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust spokesperson said: “We offer our condolences to Ms Keenan on the loss of her mother during what has been an incredibly difficult period for families with loved ones in hospital.
“We contacted her care home to advise of Mrs Keenan’s COVID-19 positive status and the home was happy for her to return, supporting her self-isolation.
“At the time of Mrs Keenan’s treatment there were no bed capacity issues within the trust.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every death is a tragedy, and our deepest sympathies go out to everyone who has lost loved ones and we have been doing everything we can to ensure care home residents and staff are protected.
“At every stage we have been guided by the latest scientific advice, and on 13 March care homes received advice, setting out actions around infection control and isolating residents or staff displaying symptoms.
“Alongside an extra £1.3bn to support the hospital discharge process, and to further reduce the risk of infection, regular testing for staff and residents has now begun starting with homes for over-65s and those with dementia before extending to all adult care homes.”