Published: 21:42, 05 June 2020
| Updated: 20:45, 06 June 2020
A quarter of all the Covid-19 deaths in Kent have been in care homes.
But many could have been avoided if the Government had not made the NHS discharge elderly patients from hospitals without any testing.
The tragic facts are laid bare in a new report by Kent County Council.
The most recent data shows there were 997 coronavirus deaths in the county up to May 22. But on May 25, the Office for National Statistics reported that Kent care homes accounted for 255 deaths which had Covid-19 on the death certificate.
KCC's report, put together for the Government, gleaned information from all 543 care homes in Kent and shows some are still struggling to get tests for the virus and protective clothing (PPE).
More than 120 said they still had problems getting PPE.
Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem) said: "This is astonishing weeks after Government claimed PPE was available for all who needed it."
On March 17, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens instructed hospitals to discharge all patients who were "medically fit" to free up 15,000 beds.
Hesaid: "Community health providers must take immediate full responsibility for urgent discharge of all eligible patients identified by acute providers."
Cllr Dean said: "Patients were discharged in a rush without routine testing taking place to check if they were still infected. Many care homes refused to admit discharged hospital clients but many others felt obliged to do so."
The findings back up shocking claims made in a BBC Newsnight report on Wednesday where a care home boss said hospitals tried to force some homes to take patients by calling night staff after day managers had already rejected them.
Cllr Dean said: "Last week, almost half of all care homes were reporting that there was no testing of residents discharged from hospital into their care. There do not appear to have been any step-down beds provided in Kent, as there are elsewhere, so that discharged patients could be quarantined until they were proved free of infection."
According to the figures, 138 homes say staff work in more than one care home and 135 homes are unable to isolate infected residents.
Despite this, over two-thirds of Kent care homes say they have still not been able to get swab tests to identify infected staff and residents quickly.
Cllr Dean said: "Homes report that the Government online portal to order tests often doesn’t work, swab tests do not arrive or are not collected, and there are delays in getting results. There are only two mobile testing units for the whole of Kent and Medway carrying out tests in areas of high demand, such as at care homes.
"These failings in the testing system mean that the spread of infection is not being stopped as quickly as possible, especially as care home staff need regular testing to ensure they remain free of the disease as they move between patients, other care homes and their own residences."
She said it probably means Covid-19 deaths in care homes are being under-reported as some GPs may be reluctant to identify Coronavirus as a cause of death unless a positive test has been carried out.
"The Government’s claim to have put its arms around care homes from the start seems very hollow indeed."
She added:"In the face of all these problems reported direct from the front line only last week, the Government’s claim to have put its arms around care homes from the start seems very hollow indeed.
"Now the Government has passed responsibility for preventing and controlling the spread of Covid-19 in care homes to the county council. But until the Government gets a grip on testing and tracing and PPE supplies, there is little more that KCC can do."
The Government says it has committed £3.2 billion in Covid-19 funding for local government and has published the details of a new £600 million adult social care infection control fund to tackle the spread of coronavirus in care homes.
Kent has the highest number of registered care home beds in England - 14,579 - and in a letter to Helen Whately, the Minister of State for Care, KCC warns it has already been underfunded and may not be able to introduce government plans in the short time allowed.
It says: "It has become clear that care home testing is not functioning locally, and this is an area of concern to us. The current situation is that care homes have been bounced around the system between Clinical Quality Commission (CQC) and local Public Health England Office.
"The new courier system is not being coordinated effectively with pick-ups being scheduled before testing kit delivery.
"And Local Authority Public Health prioritised testing on the portal appears to have no effect on which homes have actually been provided with testing kits."
It adds: "Care providers have come under financial pressures. The council stepped in and responded with practical financial support by making two payments totalling £13.5 million to all residential, nursing, homecare and supported living and supporting independence providers, (including providers outside Kent) looking after people placed by the council as at March 19.
"This additional funding was over and above the care fee rates. It is the equivalent of an additional two weeks of care and a 15% increase over a three-month period. This payment was made in recognition of the increased costs faced by providers in respect of staffing, transport costs and food purchases.
"It is worth pointing out that these payments were made not only to meet additional costs but also to ease immediate cashflow pressures experienced."
The letter says the council's expenditure since the pandemic is "far in excess of the funding provided to the council thus far."
The letter was sent by the council's head of paid service David Cockburn, director of adult services Richard Smith, director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark and Wilf Williams, accountable officer at Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group.