Almost 800 Harrogate hospital patients were sent back to care homes without Covid tests

Almost 800 Harrogate hospital patients were allowed to return to their care homes without being tested for Covid, it has been revealed.

By Jacob Webster
Thursday, 17th February 2022, 9:48 am
Updated Thursday, 17th February 2022, 10:16 am
Harrogate District Hospital.

Figures obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service provide the clearest picture yet on how patients were moved between the hospital and care homes - a practice which is believed to have fuelled infections amongst the most vulnerable.

The figures show a total of 788 patients were discharged into care homes without being tested between March 2020 and November 2021.

But the hospital says it has followed national guidance on when to carry out tests and that “patient health and safety is our primary concern".

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It also said the figures will include patients who were tested before arriving at the hospital, although it added "we do not record this information".

Russell Nightingale, chief operating officer at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, said: "During the Covid-19 pandemic, steps were taken to ensure patients could continue to be looked after in a safe environment - this was especially important for vulnerable and elderly people.

“A policy was introduced on 15 April 2020 requiring inpatients who were being discharged from hospital to a care home to have a Covid-19 test.

"Only patients who had received a negative Covid-19 test were discharged.

"If they tested positive, infection prevention measures were put in place for the individual to prevent the virus from spreading and so that the patient could be treated appropriately.

"They would remain in hospital for the required period before they were discharged."

However, this approach did not apply to patients attending appointments or the emergency department who were allowed to return to their care homes without being tested.

And crucially, the testing of inpatients was only introduced by the government in April 2020 - almost three months after the first Covid case was detected in England and when there was no protection from vaccines.

It is thought Covid was transmitting at a much quicker rate than was known at these early stages in the pandemic, and once inside a care home it often spread to residents with devastating consequences.

Since the start of the pandemic, a total of 410 Covid deaths have been reported by North Yorkshire care homes which have had to deal with PPE and testing shortages, as well as ever changing government guidance on visiting restrictions.

Harrogate hospital said it was not impacted by the testing shortages.

But Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said the government did recognise there were "challenges" with testing as he also praised staff at the hospital for their efforts during the pandemic.

Mr Jones said: "It seems clear to me that the staff at Harrogate hospital sought to deal with patients in the safest and most practical way during the pandemic.

"This must have been extremely difficult for them particularly in the early days of the pandemic when the world was fighting against something new and about which medical science knew little but could see it was deadly for many.

"There were also challenges with protective equipment supply, testing capability was still limited and hospitalisation rates were high.

"The description they have given about their testing regime would seem to most people to be practical and credible with patient safety at its heart.

"I want to again put on record my thanks to the clinical staff and also to the non-clinical support staff for ensuring the highest standards of patient care in unprecedented circumstances."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter