A regional daily’s investigation has revealed at least 133 coronavirus-positive patients were transferred from its patch’s hospitals to care homes in the first weeks of the pandemic.
The Mail’s politics and people editor Jane Haynes found 133 COVID-positive patients were discharged from hospitals across the city into care homes during March and early April, while 226 untested patients were moved the same way.
A total of 22 untested patients from Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust were also transferred into care homes.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, earlier this month, said the government had thrown a “protective ring” around care homes “from the start”.
But Jane told HTFP: “I’ve been talking to care homes and social care providers in the West Midlands since the start of this pandemic, telling stories from inside homes, from relatives, from staff and local politicians and care organisations.
“Matt Hancock’s ‘protective ring’ comment triggered a flurry of stories, questions and political commentary about whether this was a justified claim or not, including whether patients with COVID or who were untested were ‘moved in’ to care homes from hospitals during the race to empty beds in readiness for the expected surge, and in doing so possibly ‘seeded’ infection.
“What was lacking, beyond anecdotes and testimonies, was hard evidence.
“So I asked for the data. It was as simple as that to be honest. I asked the question, UHB and SWBH trusts replied, there was some to and fro over clarifying data, but that was it.”
Jane added reaction to her investigation had been “really positive locally and nationally”, with journalists across England launching similar probes as a result.
Speaking last Friday, she said: “We know our readers care about stories like this deeply, based on engagement time and page views. This story wasn’t our most read today but of the thousands who read it most stayed on it for more than a minute.
“People want us to get answers for them – they don’t want vagueness and platitudes, they want hard facts and the stories of real people, and that’s what we try to deliver.
“We’ve got around 8,000 people living in care homes in our city right now, out of sight, unvisited, vulnerable, and thousands more receive social care at home. Their relatives and loved ones, and the staff who work in social care, expect us to help them find out what’s going on and report on their reality.
“Reporting on this pandemic has been life changing to be honest. Speaking to so many people in exceptionally difficult circumstances, who have experienced death and trauma, can’t help but affect you.
“‘I’ve balanced the sadness I hear about though by also reporting on people’s resilience and spirit for our #Brumkind initiative – we have raised money, donated some ourselves, and shone a light on the brilliant community initiatives in our city throughout the crisis, and in doing so we’ve developed links deeper and stronger than ever, that will last when this is behind us.
“To be honest, being a journalist right now is a privilege.”
In response to Jane’s investigation, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented global outbreak and the virus can sadly have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable people.
“Through our comprehensive adult social care action plan, we have ensured millions of items of PPE are delivered to care homes and are using our increased testing capacity to test care home residents and staff, regardless of symptoms.
“We are also providing an extra £600 million for infection control measures in care homes on top of the £3.2 billion we have already given to local authorities to deal with COVID-19 pressures. This includes £1.3 billion of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process.
“This action has meant two-thirds of England’s care homes have had no coronavirus outbreak.”
The spokesperson also pointed out there was a “40pc drop in NHS patients discharged into care homes in February to mid-April compared to January.”
They added: “The NHS is now testing all people leaving hospital, in advance of timely discharge to care home settings.
“Where a patient needs to be isolated following discharge from hospital and a care home does not have the ability to do this, we have asked local authorities to secure appropriate accommodation for the remainder of the required isolation period.”