UK: Leaked documents show plans to again discharge COVID-19 patients into care homes

Amnesty has seen documents sent by local authorities to care homes in different parts of the country asking how many beds they can provide for COVID-19 patients, without any independent assurance of capacity to do so safely

“The discharge of COVID-19 patients into care homes full of vulnerable residents is widely regarded as one of the biggest and most devastating mistakes of the Government’s handling of the pandemic.  Yet the same deadly policy is being pursued despite the knowledge of how disastrous it was” – Kate Allen

There is renewed pressure for patients infected with COVID-19 to be discharged into care homes once again without independent assessment of their capacity to do so safely, Amnesty International revealed today after seeing leaked documents sent by local authorities to care homes in England.

As the number of infections increase rapidly around the country, the human rights organisation is warning that by discharging patients without proper mechanisms to ensure that care homes can care for COVID-19 patients safely “the same deadly policy from earlier in the pandemic is being pursued – despite the knowledge of how disastrous it was and how many lives were lost as a consequence”.

The documents seen by Amnesty were sent by local authorities up and down the country to care homes last week asking how many beds they can provide in their facilities for COVID-19 patients and asking a set of questions relating to the facilities’ infection prevention and control (IPC) capacity.

However, Amnesty is concerned that to date no mechanism is known to have been put in place to ensure that care homes which are asked to accept infected patients have been assessed by an independent and professional body which would guarantee they have the necessary infrastructure, staff, equipment, training, and systems in place to ensure effective protection from the virus for residents and staff, and adequate care for the incoming infected patients.

Given the financial pressures many care homes are facing due to lower occupancy and increased COVID-19-expenditure, including higher insurance premiums, Amnesty is concerned that care homes may feel obliged to accept COVID-19 positive patients without having the means to do so safely.

Amnesty has seen reports that the main regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), would be asked to take on an assessment role. The organisation sought clarification from the CQC last Friday, 16 October, but has received no response to date. 

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director, said: 

“The discharge of COVID-19 patients into care homes full of vulnerable residents is widely regarded as one of the biggest and most devastating mistakes of the Government’s handling of the pandemic. Yet the same deadly policy from earlier in the pandemic is being pursued, despite the knowledge of how disastrous it was and how many lives were lost as a consequence. 

“It is like throwing a lit match into a haystack. 

“There is no doubt that the first mass discharge of patients without testing was a violation of residents’ human rights and could have caused avoidable deaths. 

“As the country heads towards another peak of cases, it is incredibly worrying that care homes are being asked to take in COVID-19 patients without adequate support, effectively putting the lives of their residents and staff at risk. This is irresponsible and unacceptable. 

"If the Government is serious about protecting people through winter it must urgently require an independent mechanism to assess care homes’ capacity to accept COVID-19 patients safely. We must see a full independent public inquiry with an immediate initial phase so that lessons can be learnt and informed decisions can be made before any more lives are lost.” 

COVID-19 Winter Plan

Whilst the COVID-19 Winter Plan includes some provisions to assist care homes, such as supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it remains unclear what quantities and quality of PPE will be supplied to care homes. For example, PPE for care homes normally consist of masks, gloves and flimsy aprons – far less than the PPE usually worn by hospital workers caring for COVID-19 patients, which includes gowns, masks which provide enhanced protection, footwear covers etc.

Care home residents' human rights violated during pandemic

Earlier this month Amnesty published a report published which found that sending thousands of older untested patients into care homes in England at the start of the coronavirus lockdown was a violation of their human rights.

Amnesty has launched a campaign calling for a full independent public Inquiry into the pandemic, with an interim phase starting immediately focusing on older people in care homes.

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