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Overwhelmed hospitals may start offloading patients to care homes – but some campaigners have warned this could lead to another surge in resident deaths.
Tens of thousands of Britain's vulnerable elderly succumbed to the virus during the first wave last spring when infectious hospital patients were shipped into homes.
But the NHS is struggling to cope amid the rampant surge of cases thanks to mutant Covid variants spreading across the country, with twice as many patients in hospitals as in April.
Some charities have opposed the idea of moving patients to care homes again, fearing it is a grave mistake but NHS bosses warn they may have no other choice.
Talks are ongoing between the NHS and care sector about shipping out Covid patients into homes
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Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, told the Daily Mail: "We are now reaching the point where hospital beds are full, community beds are full, and community at-home services are also full."
He said trust leaders are once again hoping to make use of "spare capacity" in care and nursing homes, with conservations well under way – and called on the Government to offer financial incentives to the sector.
It comes following news London's temporary Nightingale hospital is set to begin taking in patients again from next week, with 800 new virus patients being admitted in the capital each day.
A similar move last spring resulted in a major surge of the virus in the care sector
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
The Exeter and Manchester Nightingale hospitals are also currently being used but Mr Hopson said such facilities are the "last-resort insurance policy" as they are not "purpose-built for health and care" and require the diversion of staff.
He added: "There is, of course, no question of using this capacity for patients who could introduce Covid-19 infection risk into care homes or for patients requiring complex or specialist hospital care."
Campaign groups, however, fear a repeat of the first wave when over 25,000 people were admitted to cares between March and April to allow hospitals to clear beds of virus patients.
London's Nightingale hospital is due to begin admitting patients next week
But up to 16,000 had not been tested, resulting in a surge of infections ripping through the care sector, leading to a peak of 400 care home deaths a day.
Rights for Residents' Diane Mayhew said turning back to the care sector "is not the answer" and moving patients into homes "could be a repeat of the disaster in the spring".
Fiona Carragher, of the Alzheimer’s Society, reiterated Downing Street "must ensure everyone receives a negative test before being discharged" to homes.
(Image: Chris Hopson/Twitter)
However, Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said if care homes have the space and are happy to look after discharged hospital patients then there's "no reason why it shouldn’t take them".
A Department of Health spokesman said no care home would be forced to care for a new or existing resident "if they do not feel they can provide the appropriate care".
"We are putting in place designated care home or NHS community settings that can provide Covid-positive residents with the care and support they need while protecting other vulnerable residents," they added.
It comes as 50 percent more coronavirus patients are in England's hospitals compared to the first peak in April, according to the latest data.
And a startling 10,000 more patients are being treated in hospital now for Covid than on Christmas Day – a surge of patients that would fill 20 hospitals.
The pressures on the health service were laid bare by NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens during a sombre Downing Street address on Thursday.
Sir Simon Stevens
He said most of the extra 10,000 patients will have caught Covid between Christmas and New Year.
He also warned there were just 39 days left to meet the target set by the Prime Minister to vaccinate the most vulnerable.
Sir Simon said cases – brought on by a mutated strain of the killer bug – are "accelerating very, very rapidly", with 30,000 currently in hospital.