After seeking answers from the Department of Health and multiple agencies, it has emerged no information is held around the discharge of patients from hospitals to care homes, where Covid-19 went on to break out.

The effect of Covid-19 has been devasting on the elderly and infirm, demonstrated by the growing number of deaths in care homes now included in daily statistics.

Given the inherent vulnerability of those in care homes efforts were made to establish the facts, in particular around critical infection control.

While the Minister has since amended procedures around testing, including hospital discharges and care homes, that may have come too late for the many lost to Covid-19 and their families.

Initially the Department was asked of the care homes currently listed as having outbreaks of Covid-19 among patients, how many received persons discharged from hospital having been admitted with suspected Covid-19 or similar symptoms, and/or were treated in or near to Covid-19 wards, but were fit to either return to their care home or reside there for recovery?

In addition, the Department was asked in all instances of discharge to care homes having been admitted with Covid-19 symptoms, was testing conducted on each patient ahead of discharge, given the environment of care homes is acknowledged to be high risk, making all residents vulnerable to such infections?

The reply came relatively swiftly advising the Department wouldn’t have this information, and suggesting it is more likely to be a query for the Public Health Agency (PHA); the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and/or the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) Support Team.

But the Department was: “Not sure this level of detail will/would be available.”

So, the same questions were put to the named agencies

The Department was then asked if the Minister could give an assurance, he will instruct officials to look into the issues raised?

The replied pointed to a recently released statement around the introduction of testing in care homes and ahead of discharge from hospital.

However as this could not apply retrospectively, Ministerial assurance to have these matters looked into was again requested.

The response asked which particular part of the enquiry was assurance asked for.

Without holding the information and as Covid-19 deaths remain non-notifiable, the Department was told there is no accountability on whether deaths were preventable. The Minister was therefore being asked to assure these points will be investigated. They were highlighted as valid enquiries around basic safeguarding procedures, hence the requirement for assurance.

The Department chose not to engage further.

Meanwhile the PHA stated it does not collate this information. The RQIA failed to respond.

HSCB initially sent the Minister’s latest statement contending this answered the issue on testing ahead of return to care homes.

Except it didn’t. The question asked was retrospective and the Minister’s statement was not.

Eventually, a very brief response arrived reading: “The information is not held centrally in the requested format however it may be collated by individual care home.”

Having gone from the Department of Health – the Gold Command section – to three separate agencies under its remit, no information could be found.

Likewise, the Minister has refused to provide an assurance he will instruct officials to establish the information, despite the critical importance to care home patients, their families and staff.

Absent this, questions remain around infection control, safeguarding and protection of the vulnerable, particularly if Covid-19 could have been prevented from entering and spreading through care homes to the extent it has.