Over 120 hospital patients may have been transferred into Wirral care homes without coronavirus testing at the height of the pandemic.
Wirral Council admitted that alongside the borough’s NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), it bought 128 care home beds in March to prepare for the potential overwhelming of local hospitals.
At this time, it was not mandatory for patients to be tested for coronavirus when being transferred from hospital to a care home.
The ECHO understands that while proven or suspected sufferers of the virus were not moved from Arrowe Park Hospital to care homes, patients from the hospital were not necessarily being tested prior to being admitted to care homes.
There is no official evidence that this policy has contributed to coronavirus outbreaks in the borough’s care homes, but last week the ECHO reported on the story of Ronald McGoldrick, 87, a long-term resident of the Lighthouse Lodge care home in New Brighton who died with coronavirus.
Although Mr McGoldrick was elderly and suffering with diabetes, his family described him as being well until he suddenly became ill with coronavirus and died at Arrowe Park Hospital on April 21.
His grieving relatives fear he got the disease from untested hospital patients who were moved into his care home.
Mr McGoldrick’s daughter Sharon, said: "I couldn't believe it when I heard they were accepting hospital patients, I was livid.
"We thought he was safe."
The care home, run by the Athena Healthcare Group, had been locked down to visitors since early March because of coronavirus, with Mr McGoldrick's family unable to visit him for safety reasons.
However, the Liverpool Echo reports that after this point, from March 23, the home began admitting patients from Arrowe Park Hospital in a move to free up hospital beds.
Lighthouse Lodge said the patients were admitted from Arrowe Park 'at the request of the NHS' in order to free up beds for those going in with coronavirus.
A statement from the care home, read: "The patients from the NHS were not, themselves, Covid-19 patients but were fit for hospital discharge pending their care packages being put in place."
When asked whether all the patients had tested negative before entering the care homes, home bosses said: "We were not advised of any suspicion of query of Covid-19 in relation to any of the NHS patients."
On a national level, Care England has blamed hospital discharges for spreading the virus into nursing and residential homes.
ITV News uncovered plans to discharge at least 1,800 patients from hospitals into care homes across the country during the pandemic.
But the government has denied that there was pressure to move people from hospital into care homes.
Graham Hodkinson, Wirral Council’s director of adult care and health, said: “Back at the start of our preparations for Covid-19 earlier this year, across the health and indeed adult social care sectors, it was expected that hospitals may struggle to meet the demands of the pandemic in terms of capacity.
“It was estimated that around 100 extra beds may be needed to free up space in the hospital, to meet increased demand and see the borough through a potential ‘peak’ of the virus.
“In early March, 128 care beds were purchased by the local authority and Wirral CCG, to transfer people out of the hospital, providing it was safe to do so.
"Individuals with Coronavirus symptoms were not discharged until after 14 days from the start of their symptoms.
“Government guidance changed on 16th April 2020 to advise that all individuals moving from hospitals to care homes must first undergo NHS testing for Covid-19.
“The hospital started full testing within around 24 hours of the revised guidance. All patients are tested regardless of whether they show symptoms and they are not discharged into care homes before the results show negative.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “This is an unprecedented global outbreak and the virus can sadly have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable people.
We're testing a new site:
“No care home should be forced to take back recovering Covid-19 patients if they do not feel they can provide the appropriate care. We are determined to ensure residents and staff are not put at risk.
“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 have provided 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.
"We have also provided £1.3 billion of additional funding via the NHS to enhance the hospital discharge process.”