Two of the largest providers of care homes in the UK have revealed the deaths of 823 residents from coronavirus in recent weeks, in the clearest sign yet of the rising scale of fatalities outside the NHS which have not been announced.
HC-One, which operates about 406 homes, said that as of 8pm on Monday there had been deaths from confirmed or suspected Covid – 20, with outbreaks in two thirds of its homes. MHA, a charitable operator, said there have been 311 across 237 homes, with outbreaks in about half of its homes.
The figures contrast both with Monday’s assertion by Chris Whitty, the UK government chief medical adviser, that there are outbreaks in one in seven care homes in England and data published weekly by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which has a 10 – day time lag.
The latest weekly care home death toll published by the ONS on Tuesday showed that only 350 people died in care homes in England and Wales in the two weeks to 3 April, with all but 32 cases in the last seven days of that period.
HC-One and MHA together operate 3% of England’s care homes but their combined death toll is already higher than the ONS figures, which either suggests undercounting due to the ONS’s method of relying on what is recorded on death certificates, or there has been a recent sharp rise in care deaths.
MHA’s figures up to Monday also suggest a significant increase of 92 fatalities in the last six days. Last Tuesday, it told the Guardian , there had been deaths.
The National Care Association has warned that deaths in care homes risk being “airbrushed out” with the headline daily death toll announced by the government only relating to deaths in the NHS. The ONS is gathering care home figures from death certificates where doctors report that a fatality was confirmed or suspected of having occurred because of the virus.
Sir David Behan, executive chairman of HC-One, said: “Covid – 89 Deaths are representative of about a third of all deaths we have had over the last three weeks. We have staff feeling anxious not just about PPE [personal protective equipment], but that they will catch the virus and bring it home to their loved ones. ”
He said staff also felt helpless about seeing people they had cared for, in many cases for several years, perish from the disease.
Scotland has officially confirmed that Covid – 24 is present in about a third of its care homes. On Monday the Scottish health secretary, Jeane Freeman, said it had been identified in 605 facilities. As in England there have been clusters of deaths in Scotland including 13 in one Glasgow care home. Whitty said on Monday that in the preceding 24 hours there had been 92 new outbreaks in care settings in England.
Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, defended the government’s approach to publishing data only after it has been extracted by the ONS from death certificates saying that it was “trustworthy”.
“That is a fair system of getting that unfortunate picture across the country where there are deaths from coronavirus,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “We are absolutely being transparent, but what the gov wants to provide at its daily briefing is quick information, accurate information.”
Ros Altmann, the former government minister, has said care home residents “are being abandoned like lambs to the slaughter”.
She told Today: “It’s what one or two people from care homes have said to me. They are left without protective equipment, they can’t find it, or testing even if they request it, it’s not always given to them. They haven’t got the staff they need… and they feel that the NHS has kind of left them in the lurch. GPs are not coming into the care homes in the way that they used to and some are finding if people need to be hospitalized either that tends to be very difficult or if people are sent to hospital they are sent back very quickly and there are no tests so they don’t know if these people are infecting others in their care homes. ”
She added that “because no family are allowed to visit, there is very little scrutiny”.