ELDERLY patients who tested positive for Covid-19 were released from Leighton Hospital into care homes across mid Cheshire during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian can reveal.

Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Guardian, Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust confirmed a total of 279 patients were released to care homes between March 1 and June 30 this year.

Of that 279, just 167 patients were tested for Covid-19 before being discharged, meaning 112 were sent from hospital wards into care homes without being tested for coronavirus.

Of those patients sent to care homes who were tested, 10 tested positive for coronavirus, with three of those providing positive tests within the 48 hours of being discharged.

In response to the Guardian's Freedom of Information request, the Trust laid out its policy for dishcarging patients. 

It said: "Hospital discharge guidance would be based upon the interpretation of national guidance at the time of the patient's discharge.

"Future care needs of the patient would be based upon a clinician’s assessment of those needs prior to discharge and reviewed following discharge by community care teams."

According to data providing by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), there were 80 deaths in care homes across Cheshire (both Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester) during the same time frame.

The trust confirmed it did not hold a record of how many of the patients discharged from Leighton Hospital into care homes around the county subsequently died a Covid-19 related death.

It said that this is because once patients are discharged from the hospital to care home facilities they are no longer under the care of the Trust.

During the period in question, the Guardian reported on several outbreaks and subsequent deaths at care homes within Northwich, and although a number of deaths were confirmed by operators of several homes, an exact number as to how many deaths came as a result of Covid-19 remains unknown.

ONS data also shows that between March 2 and June 20, there were a total of 66,112 deaths in care homes across the country, with 19,394 of them involving Covid-19.

The ONS definition of Covid-19 includes some cases where the certifying doctor suspected the death involved Covid-19 but was not certain, for example, because no test was carried out.

A spokesman for Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has made the following statement:

"Delivering the best care possible for our patients is our priority and Mid Cheshire Hospitals has met or exceeded national guidance regarding testing of patients prior to discharge at each stage of the pandemic.

"On March 26 we introduced testing for patients prior to them being discharged to a care home for those clinically identified as being at higher risk of contracting Covid-19, going over and above national guidance at the time.

"We introduced testing for all patients who had been admitted to a hospital ward and were subsequently being discharged to care homes from April 15 in line with national guidance.

"At this point we took the decision to only discharge to care homes when patients test negative, keeping them in isolation in hospital until that point and protecting local care homes.

"There are some limited exceptions to this where it is identified as being in the best interest of the patient following discussion and agreement with the care home.

"All staff at Mid Cheshire Hospitals have worked tirelessly to do the best for our patients in an incredibly difficult and unknown situation.

"We have worked closely with care homes, local authorities and our clinical commissioning group throughout the pandemic to ensure patients are cared for in the most appropriate setting and in the safest way."