Nicola Sturgeon and her health secretary Jeane Freeman have been asked to urgently address MSPs amid reports coronavirus-positive hospital patients were knowingly discharged into Scottish care homes.
An investigation by the Sunday Post found at least five health boards moved patients with Covid-19 into care homes around the time lockdown was imposed in March.
The Scottish Government confirmed 1,431 untested patients were moved to care homes between March 1 and April 21 before testing of new admissions became mandatory.
It has now been reported that at least 37 people who tested positive for the disease were still discharged into care homes. The number is made up of 17 people in Ayrshire and Arran, seven in Grampian, six in Tayside, four in Fife and three in Lanarkshire.
NHS Lothian and NHS Highland did not respond to requests, while NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it discharged 752 patients but it would be too expensive to check records to confirm how many had tested positive.
The current coronavirus confirmed death toll in Scotland’s care homes sits at 1,950, around 46% of all deaths from the virus. Some facilities have lost more than 20 residents to Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the latest revelation was “nothing short of a scandal” and called on the health secretary to appear before MSPs “as a matter of urgency to explain why this disastrous and dangerous practice was allowed to happen”.
The secrecy must end, and Jeane Freeman must come to Parliament this week to explain the Scottish Government’s actions.”
The party’s health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said confirmed Covid-19 positive patients were “knowingly discharged” to care homes was “almost beyond belief”.
She said: “Why was it deemed acceptable to place infectious people into care homes that didn’t have enough PPE and staff, putting vulnerable older people and those who care for them at risk?
“It’s right that a human rights-based public inquiry into the care home scandal will take place but we need immediate transparency from Scottish ministers about whether they signed off on this approach, and the care homes involved must be named.
“The secrecy must end, and Jeane Freeman must come to Parliament this week to explain the Scottish Government’s actions.”
NHS Grampian said patient confidentiality meant the health board was unable to confirm where individuals were sent.
A spokesman confirmed officials liaised with care home management on infection prevention measures and decisions were made prior to national guidelines that patients should have a negative swab test before being discharged.
NHS Tayside said patients were discharged “following a clinical assessment and in liaison with each care home” and in line with what hospital doctors believed would be the “most appropriate care environment for these patients”.
“These decisions were made before national guidance was agreed that patients should have a negative swab test before being discharged to care homes,” the health board said.
The Scottish Government has faced a weekend of questions and accusations of a lack of transparency following criticism from Edinburgh University’s professor Linda Bauld over its handling of coronavirus data.
On Saturday, it was revealed just one Aberdeen pub had been contacted for its customer lists despite Nicola Sturgeon insisting all contacts had been traced within three days.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron described the situation as “astonishing” and claimed an “abject lack of transparency” from the Scottish Government meant families were likely to be left with unanswered questions.
“The families of victims have been grotesquely failed,” he said. “For months, people have been desperately trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.
“They need answers – why did Nicola Sturgeon not come clean about sending Covid-positive patients to care homes?
Discharge decisions for individual patients are made by clinicians based on the patient’s needs. If somebody is discharged to a care home it is because that has been assessed as the best place to meet their needs.”
Scottish Government spokesman
“Why are public health experts forced to beg for information? Why have contact tracers only used customer details for one pub in Aberdeen?
“It’s high time the SNP Government answered these very serious questions and started being honest about what’s gone wrong and why.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said in certain circumstances, such as if a patient had dementia, people can be admitted to care homes without a routine coronavirus test, but that all residents still had to comply with a 14-day isolation period.
The spokesman also said guidance issued on March 26 instructing hospitals to inform homes if any discharged patients had been in contact with an infected person but did not comment on the specific claim infected patients had been knowingly discharged.
“There has never been guidance or policy to actively move patients unwell with Covid-19 into care homes,” he said.
“Discharge decisions for individual patients are made by clinicians based on the patient’s needs. If somebody is discharged to a care home it is because that has been assessed as the best place to meet their needs.”