Care homes have been “almost compelled” to take people who have not been tested for coronavirus, Sky News has been told.
Official statistics show deaths in care homes made up 40.4% of the overall number of COVID-19 fatalities across England and Wales in the week to 1 May.
Sky News has revealed several councils threatened to withhold funding to help care homes deal with the coronavirus outbreak if they did not agree to take in patients with the illness.
And Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said the crisis had been exacerbated by the existing arrangement between care home providers and councils.
Speaking following a Sky News’ special report on deaths in care homes, she said: “It’s one of those things where you think common sense would prevail, that if somebody hasn’t been tested as being negative, why would we put them into an environment where there are other vulnerable people at risk?
“Providers have told us that they were almost compelled to take people back into care homes because they had a contract with the [local] authority to do so.
“I think that these are very challenging decisions that have been taken by individuals that have compelled the sector to move in that way.”
It comes after Sky News reported on the death of 64-year-old Iris Critchle, who continued to go into work as housekeeper at the care home where she worked in Macclesfield, Cheshire.
Microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke told Sky News that authorities had effectively been “pouring fuel on to the flames” of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We were told that this is a disease that will really affect elderly and infirm people, and some people with underlying health conditions,” he said.
“This is not a surprise that elderly and infirm people should be most at risk.
“I assume that people were shipped out of hospitals to make room for what they knew was coming.
“Sending them out from hospitals untested into the care homes and then not giving the care homes sufficient PPE really is just pouring fuel on to the flames.”
Simon Walls, the clinical lead at St Cecilia’s nursing home, said the virus likely made it into his facility from a patient discharged from hospital who was asymptomatic, then grew ill and went back into hospital, where she died.
“We weren’t able to get tests to test the residents we thought may have had COVID-19,” he said.
“Unfortunately those people passed away. We didn’t know if they died from COVID-19 or natural causes. But my suspicions are the number is much higher than what we’ve documented because of the testing.”
Asked by Sky News whether he wished to apologise to the families of those who had died in care homes because the government had not done enough to protect them, Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously insisted doing so had been a “top priority from the start”.
“Making sure that care homes have the support they need has been absolutely front of mind, in fact I can remember in one of the very early discussions about coronavirus in January,” he said.
Mr Hancock announced last week that coronavirus tests would now be available to asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes, as well as symptomatic patients and staff in NHS hospitals.