Dozens of hospital patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were discharged into care homes in Scotland, according to an official report that follows fierce criticism of the Scottish National party government over high coronavirus death rates in such institutions.
The analysis published by Public Health Scotland on Wednesday found no statistical evidence that discharges of hospital patients — including those found to have the virus and thousands more who were not tested — had caused outbreaks in care homes between March and May this year.
But the confirmation of transfers of people infected with coronavirus sparked renewed criticism of the SNP government’s record in the early stages of the pandemic, when health boards sought to free up capacity in hospitals for an expected flood of coronavirus patients.
Many staff and the relatives of residents have criticised the transfer of hospital patients to care homes, which have often struggled to contain transmission of the virus.
The opposition Scottish Conservatives said the report revealed a “scandalous dereliction in the provision of public health to some of the most vulnerable people in our society” and demanded a public inquiry.
The PHS study showed that, between March and May, 90 patients had been discharged to a Scottish care home within two weeks of a positive test for Covid-19 and did not have a subsequent negative test.
Since the Sunday Post newspaper reported in August that patients with coronavirus had been discharged to care homes, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has been under pressure to say when she knew about such transfers.
On Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon appeared to accept that she had been aware such discharges could be occurring, but insisted that it was not her role to be involved in individual clinical decisions.
“I would not have ever stood here and said it wasn’t happening; but I didn’t have specific details that would have allowed me to say ‘I know X number of people were . . . tested positive and discharged to care homes’,” she said at a daily coronavirus briefing.
At the time, the Scottish government was focusing on infection control within care homes, Ms Sturgeon said.
Scottish health officials say there could be clinical reasons for moving patients to a care home even after a positive test. The PHS report showed some such discharges occurring even after Scottish guidance was introduced in May that called for a patient to test negative for Covid before being transferred to a care home.
The report cited NHS boards as providing a number of reasons for not being able to obtain a negative test, including that conducting one might be inappropriate for a patient close to death or when the care home they were going to already had a known coronavirus outbreak.
The PHS study follows an analysis for Public Health Wales that also did not find any evidence that hospital discharges were associated with significant increase in the risk of a new outbreak within a care home.
Both studies found that the risk of an outbreak was bigger the larger a care home was.
“In this analysis the risk of an outbreak associated with care home size is much larger than any plausible risk from hospital discharge,” the PHS study said.
Care home coronavirus deaths have been high across the UK. FT analysis in June showed that while Scotland officially attributed a higher proportion of deaths in care homes to the virus than England and Wales, Scottish total excess deaths — the increase over the average for the time of year — were slightly lower than south of the border.
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