More than 100 patients were discharged to care homes across Perth and Kinross without first being tested for Covid-19, it has emerged.
Health chiefs have admitted dozens of people were moved into care homes throughout March and April, before Health Secretary Jeane Freeman declared coronavirus patients needed two negative tests before they could leave hospital.
Gordon Paterson, chief executive of the Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership, said 109 people went to local care homes untested during the first eight weeks of the crisis.
Of those, 77 were discharged in March – representing just over 8% of the national total for that month.
Mr Paterson revealed the figures in an e-mail to Carse of Gowrie councillor Alasdair Bailey, after he quizzed him about care home transfers at a virtual council meeting last week.
Mr Bailey said: “I am really concerned to learn that in Perth and Kinross alone, 109 people were discharged from hospitals to care homes without having first been tested for Covid.
“I accept that they were not showing signs of the virus at the time but we have known from a very early stage that this bug can have a long incubation period and potentially be completely asymptomatic in some cases.”
He said to put the 109 total into context: “By March 8 there were 271 confirmed cases in the UK and Tayside had reported its first case a week prior.
“By this time, the virus was very much at our doorstep. Yet it took until April 21 to include mandatory testing as part of the discharge process to care homes.”
Mr Bailey, the council’s only Labour councillor, added: “My sincere hope is that not one of these 109 later turned out to have been carrying the virus and I’m glad that a strict testing regime is now in place.
“Clearly the priority in early March was to ‘clear the decks’ in our hospitals as a surge of critical cases was expected. However, those never materialised so we must now ask whether rushing to discharge people from hospital in the early days of this outbreak without the knowledge that they were clear of the bug was the correct thing to do.”
Mr Paterson said the high numbers in March – a total of 28 were discharged in the week ending March 22 – reflected the Scottish Government’s request to “address delayed discharge and create capacity in hospital”.
He said this was “in anticipation of a surge of Covid-19 cases”.
Mr Paterson said: “As always, patients discharged from hospital were clinically assessed as being fit for discharge.
“This meant that anyone showing symptoms of Covid-19 would not be discharged. They would be tested and if positive, transferred from Perth Royal Infirmary, which has been kept ‘Covid-free’ to appropriate wards in Ninewells.”
He said the partnership complied with guidance from Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Government.
“Initially, in March the advice was that people transferring to care homes should be isolated, PPE should be used and that visits to care homes should be limited.
“From the outset, the HSCP and council have sourced and provided PPE to care homes when they were unable to obtain supplies.”
Mr Paterson confirmed testing of all patients being admitted to care homes was introduced after April 21, with residents isolating for 14 days on admission.
All patients over 70 have been also been receiving tests every four days.
Mr Paterson said: “It should be noted that NHS Tayside has been at the forefront of testing, nationally, and extended this to wider keyworkers and to social care, including care home residents and staff in advance of the guidance being issued to do so.”
On Thursday, The Courier revealed that fighting coronavirus in Perth and Kinross was costing the health partnership around £7 million.
The cost, health chiefs have warned, could threatened a much-needed overhaul of mental health services.