More than 1,000 hospital patients were discharged to Welsh care homes without having a test in the first months of the coronavirus outbreak.

WalesOnline can exclusively reveal that 1,097 patients were discharged from hospital to care homes without a test during March and April this year.

A care home owner has told us that during this time they were put under pressure to take patients being discharged from hospital – despite their own fears that it would bring the virus into their facilities and put the elderly people in their care at risk.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 713 people with coronavirus in care homes have died since the start of the pandemic – nearly a third of the  2,317 deaths in Wales linked to Covid-19 recorded by June 5.

There have been calls for inquiries into how the virus was allowed to get into care homes and spread so widely – and why rules that could have protected residents were brought in so late.

It was not until April 29 that the Welsh Government decided to test all people being discharged from hospital into Welsh care settings – until then it had only been those patients who had displayed symptoms.

And it was not until May 16 that all care homes were allowed to request testing – until then it was only those that had seen previously confirmed cases.

Care workers

Nigel Clark, owner of Alma Lodge and Baglan Lodge care homes near Port Talbot told WalesOnline he was under intense pressure to take discharges from hospital into his homes during this period.

Mr Clark said this pressure came after he refused to take anyone without a test.

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Speaking to WalesOnline he said: “We decided on the official day the lockdown started.

“We had been told to stop visitors coming in that week. We decided that if family members can not come in the home we can’t take others without a test.

“The residents are so vulnerable. They [Welsh Government] would only give a test on people showing symptoms. We took the decision because of the risk of them being asymptomatic.

“There was pressure. We were under tremendous pressure to take people from the hospitals.

“One of our resident’s children lives opposite the home. To tell them they can’t see their family but take people without a test would have been unacceptable.”

In total, during March and April this year, 1,097 patients were discharged from hospital to care homes without a test for coronavirus – 798 in March and 299 in April.

There were also reports from care home owners about their residents dying in unusually high numbers with no official explanation.

In late April, one care home in Newport said 15 of its residents had died in a single  month. None had been able to get tests for the virus.

In total, there have been 2,592 people die in care homes in Wales since the end of February this year. In a normal year, that would be 1,602 deaths in care homes in that period.

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It was not just hospital discharge processes that put patients in care homes at risk. The lack of testing available in Wales at that time put them at risk in other ways.

This lack of testing was demonstrated in Mr Clark’s Alma Lodge Care Home in Taibach. Despite not allowing any untested admittance from hospital, the virus entered his home another way.

His staff were forced to self isolated with suspected Covid-19 symptoms as they had not been able to get tests and he needed to bring in agency workers to keep caring for his residents.

None of the agency staff had been symptoms but according to the owner, that is how the virus took root in Alma Lodge, because without tests there was “no way of knowing who was bringing the virus in”.

“On April 19 we had five members of staff test positive who were asymptomatic.” he said.

Nick Clark Care Home Manager

Nick Clark, manager at Alma Lodge Care Home
(Image: Nigel Clark)

Though Mr Clark was able to keep the virus out of his other home, Baglan Lodge, he lost over a third of his sixteen residents at the Taibach care home in a fortnight.

The Welsh Government has maintained that it has been following the scientific advice throughout the crisis. However, on June 14, Vaughan Gething conceded he would have  made “different choices” at a number of points during the pandemic.

Speaking to the BBC he said: ““It should always have been the case that anyone who was symptomatic should have been tested and that was our understanding of the science and the evidence at the time when all of the choices were made,” said Mr Gething.

“We of course developed further understanding and further knowledge, so if I had the knowledge I have today, I’d have probably made different choices at a number of points in the coronavirus pandemic.

“We certainly haven’t taken a cavalier approach.

“The safety of the people in Wales has always been the driving force in the choices we’ve made, right from the choice to stop large areas of NHS activity in the middle of March, to the way we’ve done the testing strategy, to where we are now.”

*This data is taken from the ONS figures released on June 5. This includes all the cases where coronavirus was named on the death certificate.


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