HOSPITAL patients sent to local care homes at the start of the coronavirus outbreak should have been tested, a local health boss said.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital did not routinely test patients at the start of the Covid-19 crisis as it rapidly discharged them into care homes.

Across the country, hospitals discharged patients to free up beds, after fears the NHS would run out of capacity to treat coronavirus patients needing critical care.

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But in West Berkshire, more than half of Covid-related deaths happened in care homes, according to the latest data from the Office of National Statistics. Now, local health experts are questioning what could have been done better.

Dr Cathy Winfield, chief officer for Berkshire West CCG, said: “It would have been sensible to have considered infection control issues. We didn’t have in place the routine screening and swabbing of patients before they left the hospital.”

She made the comments at a meeting of the health and wellbeing board at West Berkshire Council, on Thursday, May 21.

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Dr Winfield added: “That big discharge push occurred before that was in place, and before care homes had the opportunity to have training, personal protective equipment and the testing regime that we now have.

“We were able to step up the critical care capacity at the Royal Berkshire Hospital; the NHS was not overwhelmed; and we didn’t have to send patients to any of the large Nightingale hospitals.”

Of the 118 people in West Berkshire who have so far died with the coronavirus, 60 died in care homes, 52 in hospital, and the rest at home.

The Royal Berkshire Hospital now tests all patients before they’re discharged, according to Dr Winfield. Patients with the virus can still be discharged to care homes, but only if the home can carry out infection control procedures.

Local care homes are also struggling financially, according to Paul Coe, head of adult social care at West Berkshire Council. Care homes are reportedly spending more money on protective equipment and agency staff, while receiving less income due to lower occupancy rates.

Also at the health and wellbeing board, Mr Coe said: “We’re a bit concerned about market resilience. Care providers have pressures like additional costs and lost income.”

He added the council is distributing emergency funding from government to local care homes and supporting them financially elsewhere.