Covid patients could be left to languish in hospital and block NHS beds amid delays in setting up “hot” care homes dedicated to receiving them, Labour has warned.
A plan to reduce care home coronavirus outbreaks by setting up “hot homes” to receive infected people discharged from hospital is running late after dozens of councils missed a government deadline to nominate locations.
By the end of October every area of England was supposed to have at least one facility approved for Covid-positive discharges, the government pledged last month. It was part of a bid to prevent a repeat of the spring pandemic, which killed more than 18,000 residents after thousands of patients were discharged into care homes without tests.
But as hospital admissions with Covid continue to rise, only 67 out of 151 local authorities have one set up, according to figures from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The shadow care minister, Liz Kendall, said the shortfall presented a threat to the NHS. There were already nearly 15,000 people in hospital with Covid and the daily rate of admission was the same as on 20 April.
“The lack of places to discharge patients isn’t just bad for them but also for the NHS, which desperately needs all capacity to treat Covid patients and bring down the huge backlog in cancer and other waiting times,” she said. “The government must set out what it will do to ensure places are available in every part of the country as a matter of urgency.”
The instruction to set up designated care settings for people discharged from hospital with coronavirus came from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
It had already updated guidelines on the admission of Covid-positive patients, which now state that no care home will be forced to admit anyone if they are unable to cope with the impact of the person’s Covid-19 illness. If they refused, it would be the local authority’s responsibility to find alternative accommodation.
Some care homes and councils are understood to have faced difficulties securing affordable insurance and finding suitable facilities.
Tuesday’s figures showed 46 councils in England have not nominated a potentially “Covid-safe” facility for inspection by the CQC. This included 25 councils who said they would not take part in the scheme but would make alternative arrangements, understood to include using community hospitals.
As of 13 November, only 74 “hot homes” have been set up and approved, with 936 beds. Councils proposing alternatives, such as working with NHS facilities, report having identified just over 700 beds.
Kate Terroni, the chief inspector of adult social care at the CQC, said: “It is our role to ensure that proposed locations for the designate scheme, which is an initiative led by DHSC, are safe for people with a confirmed Covid-19 test result to be discharged into. By the end of November we will have completed 500 infection prevention and control inspections, including at all approved designated locations.”
The DHSC was approached for comment.