AT LEAST 37 people who had tested positive for coronavirus were moved from hospitals to care homes in the critical weeks around lockdown, it has emerged.

The Scottish Government say decisions over discharge were taken by clinicians based on people's needs, but opposition parties are demanding ministers explain what they knew and when they knew it.

Health Secretary Jeanne Freeman has previously confirmed that 1431 untested patients were moved to care homes between March 1 and April 21 before testing was mandatory. 

However, the Sunday Post has discovered that around 300 patients were tested during that period.

Of those, 17 in Ayrshire and Arran were positive, as were seven in Grampian, six in Tayside, four in Fife, and three in Lanarkshire.

NHS Lothian and NHS Highland did not respond to the paper’s requests under freedom of information legislation. Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Forth Valley and Dumfries and Galloway health boards said they did not discharge any patients who had tested positive. NHS Borders said two patients were transferred three weeks after a positive test so were no longer infectious.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it discharged 752 patients but it would be too expensive to check records to find out how many were tested and how many tested positive.

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told the paper: “It is quite shocking that some health boards discharged patients to care homes who had tested positive for Covid-19.

“It’s like putting a lit match to dry tinder and starting a forest fire because we know that infection control measures weren’t good in care homes, we know care homes were understaffed and we know that older people are very vulnerable to Covid-19.

“Some of these hospitals were just desperate to get rid of bed-blocking patients to clear beds.”

Professor David Bell of Stirling University, who published a paper about Covid-19 deaths in Scottish care homes, said: “Establishing the linkage from hospital discharges to care homes where there was a subsequent Covid-19 outbreak is vitally important. Although they house less than 1% of its population, almost half of all Covid deaths happened in Scotland’s care homes.

“There will inevitably be an inquiry into how this came about. Perhaps protecting the NHS had the unintended consequence of exposing care homes to the deadly virus. The inquiry will have to find out how many of those transferred to care homes were tested for Covid and what decisions were made on the basis of these tests.”

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said Health Secretary Jeane Freeman must come to the Scottish Parliament to explain the situation.

She said: “Confirmation that Covid-19 positive patients were knowingly discharged to care homes is almost beyond belief.

“Why was it deemed acceptable to place infectious people into care homes that didn’t have enough PPE and staff, putting vulnerable older people and those who care for them at risk?

“It’s right that a human rights based public inquiry into the care home scandal will take place but we need immediate transparency from Scottish Ministers about whether they signed off on this approach, and the care homes involved must be named.

“The secrecy must end, and Jeane Freeman must come to Parliament this week to explain the Scottish Government’s actions.”

The Scottish Government said: “Our priority throughout the pandemic has been to save lives. Discharge decisions for individual patients are made by clinicians based on the patient’s needs. If somebody is discharged to a care home it is because that has been assessed as the best place to meet their needs. No evidence of any kind has been given to the government that would substantiate the serious accusation that any clinicians withheld test results and it is not acceptable if full information was not passed on.

“We have taken firm action to protect care home staff and residents. There has never been guidance or policy to actively move patients unwell with Covid-19 into care homes. Guidance has been clear that any individual being placed in a care home must be subject to an appropriate risk assessment and be isolated for 14 days. This is to make explicit that steps should be taken to ensure patients are screened clinically so people at risk were not transferred inappropriately.

“All our policy decisions were based on the best clinical advice available at that time. As we learned more about the impact of the virus, we ensured all guidance and decisions followed that changing landscape.”

As of Wednesday, there have been 1,950 deaths in Scottish care homes where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The latest figures also reveal that 46% of all Scotland's coronavirus-related deaths were in care homes.

Another 46% of deaths were in hospitals and 7% of deaths were at home or non-institutional settings, the National Records of Scotland said.