MPs have blasted the “reckless” decision to allow hospital patients in England to be discharged into care homes without coronavirus tests at the start of the pandemic.

The Public Accounts Committee said there had clearly been an “emerging problem” with official advice before it was “belatedly” changed in April.

The committee accused ministers of being slow to support the social care sector during the crisis. They said about 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes in England between mid-March and mid-April to free up hospital beds.

The Government initially said a negative test result was not needed before discharging patients but later changed the guidance on April 15.

In Herefordshire, care home managers raised the alarm and refused to take in patients without testing as it was akin to ‘inviting the virus in’.

Some 14 care homes decided not to take part in discussions with Herefordshire Council to take in patients.

“It is unbelievable what they want us to do,” one care manager said at the time.

“They’ve told us that we aren’t helping if we don’t open our doors to the hospital.

“But without testing them, we are just inviting the virus into the care homes. And once it gets in the death rate will rocket.

“They say we’ve got personal protective equipment and can isolate these patients.

“But once the virus is in the care home it can spread very easily.

“It’s been happening in Italy and in Spain. Nobody cares.

“They say it is for the greater good to avoid younger people dying. But they can’t get us to make that sort of decision.

“Care homes are at breaking point nationally and in the county with some places reporting 40 per cent absence rate of staff.

“We cannot accept people without testing.”

Brockhampton Court, Hereford, was another of the care homes which refused to take on patients and took early measures to protect their residents.

“As soon as the warning came about Covid-19 virus spreading worldwide, as from March 18 we made the difficult decision to close our front door to all visitors,” a spokesperson said.

“Therefore the front door was locked.

“Before entering the main building, staff had their temperature taken and a wash hand basin was installed in the grade II porch so that all staff could wash their hands prior to entry.

“iPads were provided and residents were helped to use them so that regular contact with their families could be maintained.

“All staff were committed to isolating at home to ensure the safety of our residents.

Birthdays continued to be celebrated indoors, but families and pets were actively encouraged to participate, albeit through the window.

“Residents, of course, could continue to use the grounds for their daily exercise.

“No admissions from hospital wards with Covid-19 were accepted.”

The Department of Health and Social Care says it is working closely with local authority directors of public health, adult social services and NHS providers to deliver this testing programme for care homes.

Tens of thousands of care home workers and residents have been tested, either by Public Health England or at drive-through testing sites, mobile testing units and and via satellite testing kits – packages of tests sent to care homes for staff to use on residents.

In Herefordshire, a total of 68 people have died in care homes, 58 in hospital, four at home and three in a hospice.