Government officials are not involved in decisions to discharge COVID-19-positive patients from hospitals to care homes, the First Minister has said. Nicola Sturgeon was pressed on the issue by the leader of the Conservatives in Holyrood Ruth Davidson and Labour leader Richard Leonard who also said a freedom of information (FOI) request by his party showed 1,200 people had been moved without being tested. Over the weekend, the Sunday Post reported that at least 37 patients across Scotland had been discharged to a care home after having tested positive for the virus.
Speaking in Scottish Parliament, Mr Leonard said: “The First Minister referred earlier on to the Scottish Government clinical guidance from March 13 and it says there quite clearly, ‘there are situations where long-term care facilities have expressed concern about the risk of admissions from a hospital setting’.
“But it goes on three times in just five pages to say that care homes must keep taking transfers. The priority is maximising hospital capacity.
“It goes on to talk about floors out of hospital being not hindered and expedited.
“Does the First Minister not understand that people who have lost loved ones are upset but they’re also angry?
Nicola Sturgeon was torn apart by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard
Richard Leonard recounted the concerns care homes faced at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic
“A half of all deaths from COVID-19 took place in our care homes.
“The First Minister talks about transparency and honesty and she asks in Parliament she asks to be taken in good faith but out in communities in Scotland, people were being discharged from hospital into residential care homes where the most vulnerable to this virus are living.
“It was like as Professor Allyson Pollock said on the weekend, ‘putting a lit match to dry tinder’.”
The First Minister said clinical decisions were made to move people out of hospital, which she or her ministers would not be involved in.
Nicola Sturgeon said clinical decisions were made to move people out of hospital
She said: “This is a really serious issue so I welcome the opportunity to address it.
“Scottish Government ministers do not know the individual clinical decisions that are taken in cases of patients being discharged from hospital, whether they’re being discharged to their own homes or to a care home or any other setting.
“The responsibility of ministers is to put in place guidance. There has been guidance in place since March 13. The March 13 guidance refers to the need for clinical screening of patients being discharged from the hospital to take place.”
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The First Minister also pointed to work commissioned by the Health Secretary this week which will see Public Health Scotland publish figures on discharges from hospitals to care homes, including their testing history for the virus along with how many were discharged while they were considered to be infectious and what the rationale was for the discharge.
The study is expected to be made public by the end of September.
Mr Leonard also revealed that an FOI request from his party found that 1,203 people were discharged without a test between March and May, but said that was likely to be a “gross underestimate” as five NHS boards did not report back, including the two biggest in Scotland, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Lothian.
In May, Mr Leonard said, Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that patients in hospitals would need to have two negative tests before they could be discharged, before asking if the First Minister was aware at the time this was not happening in all situations.