Jeane Freeman defends care home discharge policy
Jeane Freeman has defended a policy that allows elderly coronavirus patients to be discharged into care homes without testing negative.
Freeman told the BBC on Sunday that it was “right and proper” that doctors have the final say in “exceptional circumstances”.
The Scottish Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have called for a total ban on the practice.
A policy of hospital patients being treated for COVID-19 having two negative tests prior to discharge into care homes was introduced in April.
That was following a period in which large numbers of elderly patients were moved out of hospitals and into care homes in the first weeks of the pandemic.
The Scottish Government has faced accusations that the practice contributed to outbreaks of COVID-19 in care homes.
But a report by Public Health Scotland published in October found no “statistically significant evidence” that it caused the high rate of infection and deaths in the setting.
The report also said that there are “valid clinical reasons” for patients not to be tested prior to discharge, including if there is uncertainty about their capacity to consent to testing, or to avoid distress.
Scottish Government guidance, updated in October, allows for patients who were being treated for COVID-19 to be moved back into care homes without two negative tests in some circumstances.
Freeman said the practice is still allowed when it is “in the clinical interests of the person to be moved”.
In response to a question from Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon last week, she said: “Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland guidance states a presumption that everyone being admitted to a care home should have a negative test before admission, unless it is in the clinical interests of the person to be moved.
“This clinically led decision is for exceptional circumstances and after a full risk assessment, consulting the resident, family and care home on what is right for the individual and putting appropriate mitigating actions and support in place.”
Lennon said: "People known to have COVID-19 should not be placed in care homes and Jeane Freeman must put a stop to this dangerous practice immediately before more lives are lost.
"Thousands of older and disabled people living in care homes have been forbidden from even talking to their loved one through the window, yet the Scottish government is allowing residents to bring the virus through the back door.
"Too many lives have already been sacrificed. This must end today."
Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Donald Cameron said: "The SNP have clearly not learned the harsh lessons of the first wave of the pandemic, when we saw COVID-19 ripping through care homes if given even the slightest chance.
"This isn't about challenging clinical decisions, it's about the reckless message being sent from the health secretary that it could be 'entirely right and proper' to discharge patients without a test."
Scottish Lib Dem spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "What is happening is the opposite of what we were told by the government.
"There is now categoric proof that the double test protection policy is not being followed.
"The buck has to stop with ministers who have been all over the place on this.
"Care home residents and their families deserve to be treated better."