COVID-19: Deaths of older people in care homes ‘being airbrushed’

Calls for accurate reporting of deaths in social care settings

Picture: iStock

Hundreds of deaths in care homes as a result of COVID-19 have gone unreported, leaders in health and social care claim.

They say ministers' daily death toll announcements have been airbrushing out the statistics for older people who die in care homes. These tallies have only taken account of hospital deaths.

Marked discrepancy in figures on COVID-19 deaths in care homes

Yet even figures solely relating to care homes deaths appear inconsistent.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) states 217 people died in care homes in England and Wales between the start of the pandemic and 3 April. Yet Care England, a representative body for care home operators, estimates around 1,000 people in care homes have died of COVID-19 alone.

'The number of deaths in care homes should be released daily in the same way as they are for hospitals’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation

On Monday, chief medical officer Chris Whitty revealed COVID-19 outbreaks were recorded at 92 care homes in the UK in just 24 hours.

Niall Dickson of the NHS Confederation

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Care home deaths obscured by lack of uniformity in releasing COVID-19 statistics

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said the spread in care homes had largely gone under the radar because the figures were not released in the same way as the daily statistics for hospital deaths.

He said: 'To understand the true scale of the spread, the number of deaths in care homes should be released daily in the same way as they are for hospital deaths.'

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: ‘Publishing daily figures for deaths of patients who tested positive for COVID-19 in hospital is the best way to track the development of the coronavirus outbreak. These daily figures are now complemented by the ONS, which draws in data on deaths outside hospital. ONS data released today show that up to 3 April, around 5% of [COVID-19] deaths occurred in care homes.

Dave Prentis of Unison  Picture: Barney Newman

Link between care home deaths and lack of PPE

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis attributes the deaths to lack of PPE. for care home staff He said: 'These figures are nothing short of a national scandal. Elderly and vulnerable residents face a death sentence because staff lack PPE.'

A Nursing Standard survey of almost 3,500 UK nursing staff found two thirds of respondents said they did not have access to adequate PPE.

Nottingham's Landermeads nursing home owner-manager Ros Heath told Nursing Standard: 'We are being asked to look after the most vulnerable people without ample PPE, and arm's-length support.

'Never again can we be in a position in which people are dying because of lack of sustained support and PPE and a fractured health and social care system.'

COVID-19 'running wild' in care homes

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said a lack of PPE and testing was leading to COVID-19 'running wild' in care homes.

She joined leaders from Marie Curie, Care England, Independent Age and the Alzheimer's Society in writing to England's health and social care secretary Matt Hancock demanding support, including adequate PPE.

The DHSC spokesperson added: 'We are working with Public Health England to monitor the impact on care homes, and we have delivered 7.8 million pieces of PPE to more than 26,000 care settings across the country. We have begun providing tests to key social care workers, and are working hard to increase testing.'

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