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Last month’s assertion from NHS England – that hospital discharges to care homes dramatically dropped between the start of February and mid-April – was correct, but there was some important context missing.

Analysis of newly published data by HSJ shows that for a critical period leading up to the peak of the coronavirus pandemic – in the first half of March – the number of patients discharged to care homes was higher than in the previous year. The analysis also shows the proportion of hospital discharges to care homes increased throughout March, amid an overall reduction in discharges by the end of the month.

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “Detailed analysis of the new data shows that for a critical period in the run-up to the peak of covid-19 infections, hospital discharge to care homes was higher than the previous year.

“As the pandemic took hold, hospital clinicians were faced with tough decisions about discharge. Vulnerable patients were in danger of contracting the virus if they remained in hospitals that were treating covid-19 patients, and rapid covid-19 testing was not available to help clinicians assess the risks to care homes.”

The government and NHS have been heavily scrutinised for failing to protect care home residents from covid-19, with some pointing to a systematic effort to discharge large numbers of hospital patients earlier than normal, many of whom could have been carrying the virus.

Local discharge data – which could be compared to local death rates – should help provide more detail to the picture, but has yet to be published.