A council 'caused' or 'increased' the number of coronavirus deaths at a care home where 24 residents have died, it has been claimed.
The 87-bed Melbury Court care home in Durham is thought to have the highest number of deaths in Britain.
Some patients were reported to have gone from the Hospital of North Durham to the home without being tested for coronavirus - or after receiving a positive test result.
In a letter sent to Durham County Council, the County Durham Care Home Association (CDCHA) said the council had 'pursued a policy which has caused and/or increased Covid-19 infections and deaths' at care homes, the BBC reported.
Durham County Council told MailOnline they 'strongly deny the allegations made in the letter'.
Melbury Court in Durham is thought to be the care home with the highest number of deaths in Britain
DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL 'STRONGLY DENIES' CAUSING CARE HOME DEATHS
In a letter sent to Durham County Council, the County Durham Care Home Association (CDCHA) said the council had 'pursued a policy which has caused and/or increased Covid-19 infections and deaths'.
Jane Robinson, Durham County Council's Corporate Director, Adults and Health Services said: 'We strongly deny the allegations made in the letter, especially given the amount of support the council working in partnership with the NHS, has provided to private care homes across the county. We are aware a similar letter has been sent to at least one other north east council.
'Whilst the north east has some of the highest care home deaths, this is due to a number of issues, including the region having some of the highest levels of deprivation and ill health in the country. In County Durham we also have a disproportionately high number of private care home providers and care home beds.
'The council recognises and values the vital role care providers across the county play in supporting some of our most vulnerable residents and we are doing as much as we can to support the sector in these unprecedented times.
'Like other local authorities across the country, we have operated in line with Government guidance throughout the pandemic, which has been, and continues to be, that admissions to care homes are able to happen as long as the resident can be isolated appropriately and infection control guidelines are met. We have regularly reviewed our support to care providers as that guidance has evolved.
'We have been in daily contact with care providers and the support provided includes:
'A verbal suggestion to designate a home for residents with covid was considered but not felt appropriate for a number of reasons. One care home was unlikely to be sufficient based on the predicted number of cases and it was highly unlikely there wouldn't still be cases in other care homes across the county. The size and scale of the county would also make this difficult. Moving all vulnerable residents out of one care home - their home, to somewhere else for an unspecified amount of time, as well as moving other vulnerable residents out of their own home into the single care home could have an adverse impact on their health and wellbeing, and can be potentially life-threatening.
'So, similar to many other local authorities we felt a more appropriate solution would be to commission 'blocks' of beds in care homes where possible unitised from the rest of the home. We were already offering a wide range of support for our care homes and continue to do so, including regular contact with them, providing advice and guidance on infection control, support with PPE, and additional funding.'
Care home owner HC-One said 24 residents had died, including four people who were transferred to the home from the hospital who were 'not original residents'.
A spokesperson said they have since been told the four residents discharged from hospital had recovered from Covid.
They stressed there was no suggestion of a link between the outbreak and the hospital - and these patients had recovered when discharged.
In addition to the 24 deaths, 38 residents have recovered, and 20 were not affected or were negative for Covid, the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust told MailOnline: 'We prioritise the safe care and management of our patients and work closely with partners including local authorities and care homes.
'Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, we have complied with all national guidance. The four patients who were discharged to Melbury Court had tested negative for Covid-19 prior to leaving hospital.'
Council officials had been told in a conference call in late March that plans to move hospital patients into care homes without testing them would be a disaster.
The CDCHA said it would find a specific home or homes for patients with coronavirus - or untested people - could be cared for, instead of having them spread across the county - which has endured the largest number of care home deaths in England and Wales.
But this plan was not enacted, reports indicate, and now the CDCHA says 81 of County Durham's 149 care homes have suffered an outbreak of coronavirus.
Samuel Wilson, 92, died at Melbury Court in early May following a positive test for Covid-19. He had returned from a routine procedure at the University Hospital of North Durham.
His family did not agree with sending him to hospital, saying the risk was too high amid the coronavirus outbreak.
They had urged staff to care for his condition at the home, but they were then persuaded.
Granddaughter Tracey O'Kennedy told the BBC: 'The home was relentless for a family member to take him into hospital for a non-essential procedure in the middle of full lockdown.
'In my opinion, they took an unnecessary risk, a risk that cost granddad his life.'
The HC-One spokesperson said: 'Our thoughts and sympathies are with all families who have lost a loved one from coronavirus and we are doing our utmost to support them during this difficult time.
'Caring for our Residents and supporting our Colleagues is at the heart of what we do, and we are doing everything we can to make sure our Residents and Colleagues stay safe and well throughout these challenging times.
'We have a comprehensive coronavirus contingency plan in place, which was created by our Clinical Director and reflects the latest government guidance.
'We have secured the medical equipment, PPE, and supplies we need to protect Residents and Colleagues alike.
'Colleagues have access to a range of specific coronavirus training modules, including on the correct use of PPE.
'These training modules have been regularly updated to reflect all changes in the guidance over recent weeks. We are also working closely with our local health and care partners.
'We have the number of Colleagues needed to support our Residents. We can also draw on additional support from our Regional Team or Colleagues at sister homes if required.
'We are proud of our Colleagues and how they have risen to the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak by showing huge dedication and commitment to our Residents.
'We are providing round-the-clock support for all our teams, and we are also grateful to Relatives for their ongoing support and understanding.'
Jane Robinson, Durham County Council's Corporate Director, Adults and Health Services said that the north east has some of the highest care home deaths due to 'a number of issues', including the region having 'some of the highest levels of deprivation and ill health in the country'.
It comes amid revelations that nearly 20,000 hospital patients – most of whom hadn't been tested for coronavirus – were discharged into care homes during the first weeks of lockdown.
Up until April 16, government guidelines said patients should be released into care homes – even if they had tested positive for Covid-19.
Official public health guidance issued on February 25 stated: 'It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.'
This 'disastrous' policy has been blamed for the catastrophic spread of the virus in care homes, killing nearly 15,000 elderly and vulnerable residents.
NHS England data yesterday revealed that 19,124 people were admitted to care homes from hospitals in the 25-day period between lockdown being announced on March 23 and April 16.
Samuel Wilson, 92, died at Melbury Court in early May following a positive test for Covid-19. He had returned from a routine procedure at the University Hospital of North Durham
A survey revealed that one third of homes have taken hospital patients with the virus, despite fewer than half being able to properly isolate them
More than 23,000 patients had been discharged into care homes in the first three weeks of March, as the epidemic took hold in Britain.
'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson warns Covid-19 cases are continuing to spill out of care homes
Coronavirus infections in care homes are continuing to spill into the community and will keep daily cases steady until September, 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson has warned.
The Imperial College London scientist - whose grim modelling of the pandemic has been used to steer the Government through the crisis - said he was 'shocked' by how badly the sector had been protected during the outbreak.
He claimed the R rate - the average number of people a Covid-19 patient infects - will remain only marginally below one because staff are still carrying the disease out of the homes. It must stay below one or Britain faces another crisis.
Professor Ferguson suggested that infections could spiral back out of control again in the cold winter months when the virus thrives and lockdown restrictions are eased even more.
He made the comments at a House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on Tuesday during his first public appearance since flouting stay at home rules to have secret trysts with his married mistress last month.
The figures show that the number of people discharged from hospitals into care homes during the height of the outbreak had fallen to about two thirds of the level over the same period last year.
But charities say it was a failure to allow a single person to be discharged into care homes without being tested.
A survey revealed that one third of homes have taken hospital patients with the virus, despite fewer than half being able to properly isolate them. At the St Nicholas home in Bootle, Liverpool, 12 residents died after Aintree Hospital discharged two patients to it without testing them for coronavirus.
The patients were discharged into the home's empty beds between March 30 and April 4, and soon after staff and other residents began displaying symptoms. Residents died almost every day over two weeks after the virus ripped through the home.
The NHS data published yesterday revealed that by mid-April the number of people being discharged into care homes had fallen by about 700 a day.
A spokesman for the NHS said: 'This new data reinforces what hospitals have already made clear: clinicians have pulled out all the stops to do the right thing for their individual patients, and to get people the right care and support where and when they need it.'
Office of National Statistics figures show that there have been 275 deaths in care homes in County Durham - a higher number than in hospitals.