7,500 feared to have died of coronavirus in UK care homes

Earlier this week, the Government was accused of misleading the public about the scale of the pandemic because it failed to include care home deaths in its daily briefings. Healthcare workers warned that deaths in care homes have been substantially underestimated by official figures.

The number of care home residents who have died of suspected coronavirus may have reached 7,500, according to the latest estimate, The Telegraph has learned.

By Gabriella Swerling, Social Affairs Editor 17 www.telegraph.co.uk

New data collated by Care England, the country’s largest representative body for care homes, suggests the number of deaths from Covid-19 is far higher than its previous estimate of 1,400 from earlier this week.

The number is also far in advance of the official figure from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which has recorded 217 care home deaths from the virus up to April 3 – the most recent date for which official data is available. 

However, as the Government published its daily update on coronavirus hospital deaths on Friday, which showed a rise to 14,576, it emerged that the death toll in UK care homes is suspected to be much bigger than previously feared. 

Professor Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, told The Telegraph that around 7,500 people may have died in care homes as a result of the virus. 

“Without testing, it is very difficult to give an absolute figure,” he said. “However, if we look at some of the death rates since April 1 and compare them with previous years’ rates, we estimate a figure of about 7,500 people may have died as a result of Covid-19.”

Care England, which represents around 3,800 homes and more than 50,000 residents, gathered data by “taking a sounding” from its homes.

Its estimate comes amid a growing row about the extent of the coronavirus crisis in care homes and the Government’s response, as data from Public Health England confirmed that the elderly have been hardest hit by the virus, with 69 per cent of those who have died aged over 70.

Earlier this week, the Government was accused of misleading the public about the scale of the pandemic because it failed to include care home deaths in its daily briefings. Healthcare workers warned that deaths in care homes have been substantially underestimated by official figures.

Charities said the new data “will send a chill down the spine of anyone with a loved one living in a care home” as they renewed calls for increased provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep residents and carers safe.

Earlier this week, a leaked letter from care home bosses accused Number 10 of a “shambolic” response to the sector’s crisis, with “paltry” and “haphazard” deliveries of PPE. 

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary said during the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday that only 15 per cent of care homes had been hit by Covid-19. He told the health and social care committee on Friday that data on the deaths of care home residents with coronavirus will be published “very shortly”.

His pledge came as care professionals claimed they have not seen £1.6 billion which Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor,  announced had been set aside for social care. The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that, without a “cast-iron funding pledge”, councils will be heading towards “financial failure”.

Responding to the Care England data, Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, said: “This is a shocking and utterly heartbreaking estimate that will send a chill down the spine of anyone with a loved one living in a care home. 

“It emphasises just how crucial it is that the Government’s commitments on PPE and testing in care homes are implemented successfully and at speed.

“As we have feared for some time, what’s going on in care homes – not only here but in many other countries too – is a tragedy in the making. It’s too late to avert this entirely, but there’s still time to make a positive difference and save many lives, of staff as well as older people.

“Central and local government and  the care home sector must work together to make this happen. And later, possibly a lot later, we have to ensure this can never happen again.” 

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy, and that is why we are working around the clock to give the social care sector the equipment and support they need to tackle this global pandemic.

“It is important that we have the best possible reliable data to know how many deaths there are, wherever they occur. In an important step forward, ONS are now providing a breakdown of deaths by place of occurrence.

“We are currently working with CQC and other organisations to understand how to best to provide up to date information about deaths in care homes and elsewhere.”

 

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