Hundreds of people are dying in care homes from confirmed or suspected coronavirus without yet being officially counted, the Guardian has learned.
More than 120 residents of the UK’s largest charitable provider of care homes are thought to have died from the virus in the last three weeks, while another network of care homes is reported to have recorded 728 deaths.
Care England, the industry body, estimated that the death toll is likely to be close to 1, , despite the only available official figure for care home fatalities being dramatically lower. The Office for National Statistics said this week that 26 people died in care homes across the whole of England and Wales in the week to 30 March.
The gulf in the figures has prompted warnings that ministers are underestimating the impact of Covid – on society’s most frail, and are failing to sufficiently help besieged care homes and workers.
Other homes have reported dozens of deaths as the virus sweeps through vulnerable populations looked after by care workers who say they still lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing to curb its spread.
The ONS said it can only produce statistics from the death certificates registered by the General Register Office and it is “working with partners to better understand how the registration and coronial process is adapting under current conditions”.
Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England, who lost his – year-old brother Umar to Covid – on Wednesday, said the UK was “substantially under reporting” coronavirus deaths.
“It appears that some people are not taking this pandemic seriously,” he said. “If they appreciated the hundreds of families and communities who lost loved ones every day then they might. Fifty-two people were killed on 7/7, we know all their names, everything they lost and left behind. We know nothing of more than 23 times that every day who lose their lives to Covid – . ”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are determined to give the social care sector the support it needs to respond to coronavirus and continue to work closely with Public Health England to monitor the impact on cares homes.
“The government has announced £ 2.9bn to help local authorities respond to pressures in key services, such as adult social care, and enhance the NHS discharge service, allowing patients to return home safely. We have published extensive guidance for care homes on admitting and caring for people during the outbreak, and we are reinstating the professional registration of 8, previous social workers to fill vital roles in the community.
“We have also delivered 7.8m pieces of PPE to more than , 04 care settings across the country and are rapidly working to extend testing to social care workers. ”
Guidance on who can visit people in hospital during the lockdown was revised on Wednesday after analysis revealed that a quarter of hospitals in England were banning those caring for patients with dementia, a learning disability or autism.
new guidance , which was welcomed by campaigners, means close family members and carers of those with a mental health issue now have the right to visit their loved ones in hospital.