Covid-19 discharges into care homes in Scotland being investigated by Crown Office

Crown Office officials are investigating whether the discharge of untested and positive Covid-19 patients into care homes contributed to the deaths of thousands of care home residents, The Scotsman can reveal.

Detailed information about whether a patient was discharged to a care home alongside their test status, including whether they were tested prior to discharge, received a negative test result or were discharged despite having tested positive for Covid-19, was requested by the Lord Advocate early this year, correspondence reveals.

This means the Scottish Government policy to allow the discharge of untested individuals to care homes during the early stage of the pandemic – later changed – will be central to the investigation of potentially thousands of care home deaths caused by the pandemic.

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Crown Office officials are investigating patient discharges into care homes during the early stage of the pandemic.

After each death is assessed by the Crown Office, the deaths could be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry or prosecution.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the Scottish Government was advised that spare capacity in hospitals was required to cope with the pressure of Covid-19 and prior to testing being commonplace.

Despite Scotland locking down on March 23 last year, it took almost a month for guidance to state that it was mandatory for hospital patients to have two negative Covid tests before being discharged and for care home admissions to isolate for two weeks.

Statistics show 82 per cent of the more than 3,500 discharges into care homes between March 1 and April 21, 2020, were not tested.

Correspondence from Public Health Scotland (PHS), obtained by The Scotsman, confirms the decisions taken by clinicians in line with government guidance of the time, will be taken into account by the Crown Office when assessing each Covid-19 care home death.

The Scottish Government has maintained its policy during the early stages of the pandemic did not lead to outbreaks in care homes – a stance it claims is backed by a controversial study by Public Health Scotland.

However, it can now be confirmed the decisions made around discharges into care homes will be taken into account by the Crown Office.

Emails sent in February of this year as PHS discussed whether to release detailed information around care home discharges.

They state: “The Lord Advocate is investigating deaths in care homes and has asked PHS to provide identifiable information for all those who were discharged to care homes and their test status … during March to May.

“There is a concern that releasing this FOI information into the public domain could affect this investigation.”

The investigation – known as Operation Koper – is investigating almost 3,500 deaths in care homes, including the 1,754 deaths which took place before guidance was issued that required any confirmed or presumed Covid-19 death where the victim contracted the disease in a care home to be reported to the Crown Office.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has established a dedicated team to deal with reports of Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths in care homes or where the deceased may have contracted the virus in the course of their employment.

“The Covid Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT) receives and deals with those reports and will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate enquiries are made as quickly as possible.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on any live investigation by the independent Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

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