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Care boss slams Wales Covid discharge policy to care homes

THE Welsh Government has defended its decision to discharge elderly people from hospitals into care homes without testing them for Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

This week, High Court judges branded a similar discharge policy in England “unlawful”, in a case brought by relatives of care home patients who died from coronavirus.

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, patients in Wales and England were rapidly discharged into care homes without testing, despite the risk of asymptomatic transmission.

UK Government documents show there was no requirement for such testing until mid-April, and in Wales, it was another fortnight before the policy was changed.

The head of the Care Forum Wales said the move in spring 2020 shows care home residents weren’t “given the consideration they should have been”.

But Mark Drakeford has remained steadfast in his belief that a Wales-specific Covid inquiry would be less productive than one which compares decisions across the UK’s four nations.

This week’s High Court case only covered England, but the judges’ findings have sparked fresh criticism of the Welsh Government’s decision-making on the same matter.

Penarth Times: Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris, who brought the case to the High Court over the UK Government's care home discharge policy in England. Picture: PA WireCathy Gardner and Fay Harris, who brought the case to the High Court over the UK Government’s care home discharge policy in England. Picture: PA Wire

Mario Kreft, the chairman of industry body Care Forum Wales, acknowledged “some of the judgement calls, although well-intentioned, were based on false assumptions”.

He said care professionals realised in 2020 it was “counter-intuitive” to discharge “people who may well have had Covid… to places where there was no Covid, sadly in some instances with catastrophic consequences”.

“At the time, plans were being made for potential a huge losses of life and understandably the governments of the UK and Wales prioritised clearing hospital beds,” Mr Kreft said. “It’s fair to say that older people may not have been given the consideration they should have been given.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson defended the “wide range of support” provided to care homes and said ministers had followed “the latest available scientific advice to keep people safe, wherever they live”.

“As the international evidence base about coronavirus evolved, we have continued to update our approach to learn lessons for the future,” they added.

Penarth Times: First minister Mark Drakeford has resisted calls for a Wales-specific inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Huw Evans Picture AgencyFirst minister Mark Drakeford has resisted calls for a Wales-specific inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Huw Evans Picture Agency

In the wake of the High Court judges’ comments, Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said the patient discharge policy in 2020 was one of “the exact issues that a Wales-specific Covid inquiry would investigate, which is why it is totally unacceptable for this arrogant Labour government to block one as it runs scared of scrutiny”.

But first minister Mr Drakeford said the “best way to get a proper understanding of the decisions we made is to see them in the wider context” of what happened around the UK.

“We were relying on the same advice from Sage, from the network of chief medical officers as people in England and Scotland and Northern Ireland were relying on,” he told BBC Radio 4 today, Thursday. “I want there to be a spotlight on the decisions we made, but to understand them properly you can’t divorce them from the that wider context in which we were operating.”

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