Coronavirus: More than 11,000 deaths in care homes

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

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More than 11,600 people have died from coronavirus in care homes across the UK since the start of the pandemic, figures suggest.

But for the second week running, the review of death certificates by statisticians showed the number of new deaths has fallen.

In the week to 8 May, there were 1,940 care home deaths linked to coronavirus - down from 2,800 the week before.

Overall, care home deaths account for over a quarter of the virus fatalities.

The head of the organisation which represents care homes in England has strongly criticised the government's approach to dealing with coronavirus among elderly residents.

Giving evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee, Professor Martin Green criticised the lack of personal protection equipment, poor organisation and constantly changing guidance - and suggested some care homes could now "go under".

But speaking in the House of Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the care sector had received unprecedented levels of support during the crisis.

The impact on all deaths

Meanwhile, the total number of deaths from all causes across society has fallen too, according to the Office for National Statistics and its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

These are seen as the best measure of the impact of the lockdown as it takes into account both deaths linked to coronavirus and other deaths that could be a result of the lockdown.

There were 14,400 deaths during the week - around a third of which were linked to coronavirus.

This is down from a weekly peak of nearly 25,000 at the height of the pandemic - although it is still above what would be expected at this time of year.

It means since the pandemic started there have now been 55,000 extra deaths.

The daily figures released by the government just look at deaths among people with a confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus.

Could the true toll in care homes be even higher?

The government has been receiving heavy criticism for the impact of coronavirus in care homes.

Alongside the coronavirus deaths, there are significant numbers of unexplained fatalities.

Across Great Britain, you would normally expect to see around 2,800 deaths a week.

But at the peak of the pandemic in care homes in the second half of April there were around three times as many deaths.

Only around half the increase was attributed to coronavirus.

The other deaths could be related to the indirect costs of the pandemic, such as not getting care for other conditions like heart disease and strokes.

Another factor could be that the true number of coronavirus deaths have been under-reported as the lack of testing available to care homes may have meant doctors were not able to identify the presence of the virus.

Has the government done enough to protect care homes?

Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock claimed ministers have done everything they can to protect care homes.

The health secretary said a "protective ring" has been thrown around care homes, adding that nearly two-thirds of care homes had not seen outbreaks.

But the sector has questioned the support, criticising the lack of protective equipment and testing available - despite the expansion of testing it will still be another three weeks before all staff and residents will have been tested.

James Bullion, from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said both issues still remain a problem.

"The care workforce is 1.6 million. We are nowhere near the level of testing that is required."

Jennifer Dixon, of the Health Foundation think tank, said action by the government had come "too late".

"The approach to social care stands in contrast to the NHS which saw a much fuller and swifter response to the pandemic."

Mike Padgham, of the Independent Care Group, which represents care homes, said "serious questions" needed to be asked, calling for a public inquiry once the pandemic is over.

Responding to reports care homes had felt pressured to take patients from hospital and that had contributed to the spread of the virus, Downing Street said that "no care home should be forced to take back recovering coronavirus patients" if they feel they cannot provide appropriate care.

The prime minister's spokesman added the NHS was now testing all people leaving hospital in advance of their discharge to care homes.

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