Coronavirus care home data refused

Wednesday November 25th 2020

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Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Joseph Anderson

Health chiefs at NHS Lothian have refused to say how many patients were transferred to care homes after testing positive for coronavirus.

In October, Public Health Scotland revealed that 78 patients who tested positive for coronavirus while in hospital were transferred to care homes between March 1 and April 21 of this year – although only 650 of the 3,599 elderly patients discharged to care homes were actually tested.

Between March 1 and June 21 of this year, 348 (32%) Scottish care homes experienced an outbreak of Covid-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 5,135 people who died in Scotland had coronavirus mentioned on their death certificate – of these, more than 2,000 were in care homes, according to National Records of Scotland.

NHS Lothian has previously said it discharged 771 patients from hospital to care homes between March 1 and May 31 of this year.

Now, NHS Lothian has refused to say how many patients it transferred from its hospitals to care home settings after testing positive for coronavirus. It further refused to name the care homes which coronavirus patients were transferred to.

The data was requested using freedom of information powers, which require local authorities to hand over information to members of the public and press.

In refusing the request, Professor Alex MacMahon, executive director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at NHS Lothian, said: “This is an issue of significant and understandable public interest. It is thus important that these issues are explored and findings shared transparently.

“We recognise the legitimate interest in this area and hence are working on a publication to provide an update in this area in response to applications such as the one you have submitted.

“It will however not address all aspects raised in the applications received. Given this publication is in train, we are rejecting your application on that basis, recognising also that given the complex nature of the work, costs are likely to prohibit further adjustment to what is in progress.”

Professor MacMahon further explained that the release will not answer all of the questions asked, and that he hopes the work will be complete by the end of the year.

Rejecting a freedom of information request on the grounds that a local authority plans to release only some of the requested information, at an indeterminable date in the future, is not normally grounds for refusing a request and so an appeal has been lodged with NHS Lothian.

Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack, Labour, responded to the refusal: “It is shocking that NHS Lothian will not reveal the numbers of patients discharged to a care home having tested positive for coronavirus.

“Concerns have been growing for months about the patients being discharged from hospitals and being sent to care homes.

“When a patient who tests positive is sent to a care home it also impacts on staff and other residents in the home who are not allowed visits from their family for 28 days.

“We need action so that the rights of care home residents and their welfare are upheld”

Edinburgh Western MSP, and Scottish Liberal Democrats health spokesperson, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said: “The tragedy of Scotland‘s pandemic story is in our care homes.

“We’re only starting to realise the catastrophic reality that covid positive patients were almost routinely transferred from hospital into residential care.

“That NHS Lothian is refusing to say how widespread this was in our own area suggests the worst.

“This is vital information to our understanding of what went wrong so that we can offer hundreds of grieving families both closure and apology.”

Lothian MSP Miles Briggs, Conservatives, said: “It is disappointing that NHS Lothian has refused to provide information on the number of patients who were discharged to care homes at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Edinburgh and the Lothians had the highest levels of delayed discharge across Scotland at the start of this year, which was significantly reduced in March, with hundreds of patients being discharged to care homes without a test for Covid-19.

“The level of testing of hospital patients, testing within care homes and the discharge of patients to care homes has still not been resolved, despite SNP Ministers having nine months to improve testing.”

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