The National Care Forum (NCF) has branded a report by Public Health England (PHE) that analyses the link between hospital discharges and outbreaks in care homes as “unhelpful” and “unrepresentative”.
The PHE study, released on Thursday, found 97 out of 5,882 care home outbreaks in England – including 286 deaths – were “due to hospital associated seeding”.
It came after Dominic Cummings branded Matt Hancock’s claim to have thrown a “protective ring” around care homes “complete nonsense”.
The NCF has dismissed the “partial data” in the study and suggested the real figure could be much higher.
CEO Vic Rayner (pictured) said: “The PHE Report delivers an unhelpful analysis of data that provides at best a partial picture and at worst an unrecognisable representation of the impact that hospital discharge in the absence of testing had on the most vulnerable members of our society.
“The data attempts to almost completely absolve the discharge programme from ‘seeding’ outbreaks within homes by presenting a set of data as complete, when in fact it was fundamentally flawed because of the very limitations of the testing regime in both hospitals and care homes.”
Rayner explained that the PHE report draws its analysis from testing carried out in hospital, which at the time was “extremely limited” and only concentrated on symptomatic patients.
She continued: “It also looks at the outcome of testing carried out in care homes as part of the local PHE teams testing for outbreaks. Again, this approach to testing was very limited, with local teams only required to test up to (and in practice often less than) five symptomatic resident in any care home, with the outcome of that needing only 2 positive tests to declare an outbreak.
“At that point no further testing of residents was carried out for 28 days. This meant that firstly residents discharged to care homes were not in any way guaranteed to be part of the testing regime in care homes, and secondly that anyone who had acquired COVID within hospital and was asymptomatic would not have been picked up within this testing regime. These are points of fact.”
The PHE said the number of care home outbreaks seeded by hospital patients being discharged with the virus was “relatively small”.
But Rayner said this statement runs the risk of rewriting an element of history to suit a current narrative.
She added: “In reality the low level of testing for symptomatic patients or residents, and the complete absence of testing for asymptomatic people can only mean that we do not, and probably will never know, the extent of the damage that the practice of discharge without testing delivered. It is one more example that shows social care was not front and centre of all government thinking, yet the people that it serves should have been. It was clear from the start that they were most at risk from the devastating impact of this virus.”