The leader of Greenwich Council has said he is “absolutely sure” hospital patients with coronavirus were transferred to care homes in a bid to free up intensive care space during the early stages of the deadly pandemic.

The revelation came as it was confirmed eight of Greenwich’s 11 care homes recorded outbreaks of Covid-19 as the local authority scrambled to source PPE after supply lines broke down.

The details came as Greenwich councillors quizzed council leader Dan Thorpe at the first overview and scrutiny meeting held since the country went into lockdown in March.

Cllr John Fahy had asked if national stories of hospitals using social care as an avenue to get elderly people out of hospitals and into care homes to avoid “bed-blocking” had occurred locally.

“I couldn’t swear my life on it but I’m absolutely sure that some people would have been caught up in initial guidance where people were being transmitted from hospital to care homes with coronavirus,” Cllr Thorpe responded.

The leader added Greenwich Council’s emergency appeal for PPE – which saw Cllr Thorpe source 20,000 items himself during the early stages of the pandemic – was made “to support the discharge of people from hospitals to care homes”.

Addressing members of the committee in their online meeting, Cllr Thorpe said the response was taken as authorities across the UK worked “flat-out” to create 32,000 hospital beds he said had been lost in the preceding decade.

While he had no further information on the scale of outbreaks in Greenwich’s care homes, Cllr Thorpe clarified in public health terms an outbreak is considered to be more than one case of illness which is linked.

The Labour leader of Greenwich said the council had been working “flat-out” to ramp up testing in care homes in recent weeks – saying initial positive results had picked up asymptomatic carriers, while at least one home had no cases in any form last week.

He added Greenwich was one of the first councils in the country whose public health teams went into care homes directly to help with infection control.

It’s unclear if the authority would have to foot the bill for supplying PPE to care homes, Cllr Thorpe said,  with “the first priority…to get them the stuff”.

As of Tuesday Greenwich had recorded 700 cases according to Government statistics. 

Monday’s meeting also saw the financial impact of the coronavirus laid bare – with Cllr Thorpe telling his colleagues the predicted cost to the council as a result of lost income and increased use of services would be in the region of £50m.

So far the authority has received £17m from the Government – leaving a potential gap of £33m the council may have to cover.