PATIENTS who tested positive for the coronavirus were among 221 people discharged into care homes from hospitals in West Wales during the peak of the crisis.

Only 30 of the 221 patients discharged between the beginning of March to the middle of April were tested.

Hywel Dda University Health Board said 25 of the tests were negative, with five positive.

The figures follow a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporter Service.

The health board said the 30 patients tested were showing symptoms of the virus, and that it had been following the national guidance of the time.

In answer to a follow-up question about what steps were taken to ensure that care homes receiving the five positive patients could look after them safely, a Hywel Dda spokesman said all discharges were “planned in partnership with the receiving care home to ensure arrangements are safe and meet the needs of patients concerned and other residents”.

Health boards and trusts throughout the UK were desperate to create extra hospital capacity as the pandemic took a grip in March. Families were encouraged to take their relatives home, while others were moved into care homes.

There were warning signs though from Europe, where Covid-19 began its rampage before the UK, that care homes were particularly susceptible.

Hywel Dda University Health Board said that on April 22, Wales’s chief medical officer, Dr Frank Atherton, issued updated guidance for health boards to test all inpatients prior to discharge to a care home.

The Senedd’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee said in a report this month that it was “deeply troubled” by the number of Covid-related deaths in care homes.

The committee said it felt the Welsh Government’s initial approach to testing in care homes was “flawed”, and that it was subsequently too slow in responding to the crisis.

It took too long, said the committee, to implement appropriate testing measures for care homes.

Care home residents, it said, had been “badly let down”.

The report said: “Moving forward, there is a need to be confident about the ongoing availability of tests for care home residents and staff, particularly as visitor restrictions are relaxed.”

Up until June 26, a total of 725 of the most vulnerable people had died with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 after it got inside Welsh care homes

The Welsh Government said it didn’t accept that care home residents had been badly let down.

“Our approach has been rooted in scientific evidence with the sole objective of saving lives, regardless of where people live,” it said.

Mario Kreft, chairman of care representative group Care Forum Wales, said the number of care home deaths from Covid-19 was “shocking but sadly not surprising when you consider the NHS was so prioritised in the early days”.

Social care, he claimed, was left behind.

Mr Kreft said: “Anecdotally, the message from our members is that it would appear admissions from hospitals have been a major factor in spreading the virus like wildfire in those care homes, as opposed to community transmission.

“A survey we conducted showed that 42 per cent of care homes felt they had been pressurised into accepting hospital patients who were either Covid-19 positive or had not been tested.

"Where this occurred, it turned safe havens into coronavirus warzones. All these themes are now being flagged up in the report from the health committee.

“Worryingly, the message we are getting from our members is that the testing regime is patchy at best and utterly shambolic at worst.

“Equally patchy and shambolic has been distribution by local councils of the £40 million of emergency funding announced by the Welsh Government.

“It was supposed to be the first tranche of funding to help the sector through the crisis but there is still no sign of the additional financial support that was promised. We now need to look at the recommendations in this important report learn lessons for the future, particularly in case there is a second wave of Covid-19.

“We need a national action plan that includes an immediate policy shift to put social care on a par with the NHS, creating a national service that is properly funded because it is, as the First Minister pointed out, the scaffold that supports the NHS.

“What we have learned from this global pandemic is that we cannot continue to treat and manage the social care market as we have done for the past generation and expect a different outcome.

“We need a system that is fair and equitable instead of the post code lottery which means we have 29 variations on a theme – with 22 local authorities and seven health boards – when it comes to setting fees.

“The misplaced mindset in the UK has been focused on ensuring the NHS was not overrun without recognising the catastrophic damage and the high level of deaths in care homes.

“This is not a blame game. This is about setting a plan that will meet the needs of future generations by learning some important lessons from the mistakes made during the pandemic and the past generation, so that history does not repeat itself.”