Politics

Moving patients from hospitals to care homes was ‘entirely appropriate’, Scottish health secretary says

Scotland’s health secretary insisted it was “entirely appropriate” for hospitals to clear delayed discharge patients in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of elderly individuals were sent from hospital wards to care homes in March without first being tested for Covid-19.

Government ministers and public health bosses feared the NHS faced being swamped in the first weeks of the pandemic by patients who had caught the virus – prompting a concerted effort to free-up existing capacity.

But that meant the care sector – which is largely run by private firms – faced an upsurge in delayed discharged patients being sent to them.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arriving for First Minster’s Questions (FMQ’s) in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 3, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus Scotland. Photo credit should read: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire

“I think it was entirely appropriate that where an individual, regardless of their age, was clinically fit to be discharged from hospital – in other words, they no longer required the treatment that only a hospital can provide – then it was correct,” she told a virutal session of Holyrood’s health committee.

“Based on the evidence, and the judgement we made, the continuing to stay in a hospital setting – which was gearing up to receive large numbers of Covid cases – was not the safest place for someone clinically fit to leave hospital to remain. I think that was a reasonable judgement to make at that point.”

The policy has already sparked an angry backlash at years of failure to deal with delayed discharge – also known as “bed blocking” – in a more controlled way.

Freeman also said care homes in Scotland with 30 residents or less “appear to do better in terms of handling the virus”.

She said “early emerging” findings gathered from the sector suggested smaller groups of residents meant staff could react faster to suspected outbreaks.

The health secretary also did not rule out “beefing up” the Care Inspectorate – which carries out inspections of private facilities.

And she said a review of the care sector will be carried out “in due course”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was also quizzed on the Scottish response to care homes and testing during her daily press brieifing.

Asked why all residents are not offered routine testing, Sturgeon said they are following clinical advice in care homes where there is no known case of Covid-19.

She added: “There are some ethical considerations of routine testing of frail, older people where there are no cases of Covid, and it’s important all these things are taken into account.”

Sturgeon added: “Care home deaths are now declining rapidly in Scotland. They are still too high but they are declining significantly.”

It shows the package of measures in Scotland “is having an effect”, she said.



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