More than one in three care homes in England reported an outbreak of coronavirus in the first two months of the pandemic, according to a new report.
The report published today by the National Audit Office (NAO) said the infection rate in care homes peaked at just over 1,000 homes in the first week of April.
It added that some parts of the country were more affected than others, with the North East being the area with the largest proportion of its care homes (just under half) reporting an outbreak by 17 May.
The report also noted that patients discharged quickly from hospitals between mid-March and mid-April were sometimes placed in care homes without being tested for COVID-19.
On 17 March, hospitals were advised to discharge urgently all in-patients medically fit to leave in order to increase capacity to support those with acute healthcare needs.
Between 17 March and 15 April, around 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes, compared with around 35,000 people in the same period in 2019.
Due to government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for COVID-19 before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms.
On 15 April, the policy was changed to test all those being discharged into care homes.
The report adds it is not known how many patients discharged to care homes had COVID-19 at the point they left hospital.
It also found that testing for health and social care workers has faced challenges.
On 17 March the NHS announced that testing would begin being rolled out to NHS staff with symptoms.
This was extended to care workers on 15 April and to the rest of their households two days later.
From 28 April, all care home staff were eligible for tests but the DHSC capped the daily amount of care home tests at 30,000, to be shared between staff and residents.
The government does not know how many NHS or care workers have been tested in total during the pandemic, the report states.
Based just on tests carried out by the NHS, NHS England & NHS Improvement estimates that the number of NHS staff and the people they live with who were tested increased from 1,500 to 11,500 a day during April.
‘This is a catalogue of errors and highlights once again a complete absence of planning or thought for social care,’ said Unison’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea.
‘Discharging patients to care homes without testing was simply scandalous and accelerated the spread of the virus among an obviously high-risk group.’
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