Covid-19 fatalities in care homes in England and Wales have more than quadrupled in a week, rising to 1,043, according to the latest official figures.
By 10 April, more than 1,000 people were confirmed to to have died in care homes from the virus, up from 217, the previous week. The number of people who died in private homes also more than tripled, to 466.
But the latest assessment of the virus’s impact on the most vulnerable by the Office of National Statistics, released on Tuesday, remains far short of the care sector’s own warnings that many thousands more have already died.
Amid growing concern that figures underestimating the scale of the crisis in care settings may have slowed down the UK government’s response, the Department of Health and Social Care said it was trying to speed up data collection and close the 10-day time-lag in data collection.
Figures gathered from care homes by the Guardian this week show the actual death toll is considerably higher, while Care England and the National Care Forum, which represent home operators, have estimated that 7,500 and 4,000 residents may have already died from Covid-19. The official figures rely on death certificates, which can take 11 days to process and may not always include Covid-19 as a cause of death, sometimes including deaths from flu, pneumonia or other underlying causes.
By Monday, five of the largest care home providers had recorded 1,052 deaths from confirmed or suspected Covid-19, with the death toll rising sharply in recent days. At least 412 people had died at homes operated by HC-One, the UK’s largest operator. Care UK, which runs 122 homes in England and Scotland, recorded 140 deaths, a 65% increase, in four days, while Four Seasons Health Care reported more than 160 deaths in 190 care homes – a 60% increase in six days.
The latest ONS figures show that of 9,869 Covid-19 deaths to 10 April, less than 11% happened in care homes. By contrast, official figures from Scotland up to 12 April show one in four deaths are recorded in care homes. In Scotland, there were 237 deaths in care compared with 596 in hospitals and 128 at homes and in other non-institutional places, according to the National Records of Scotland.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 has pushed the overall weekly death toll for England and Wales to a record high for the second week running. For the week to Good Friday (10 April), there were 18,516 deaths, the highest number since weekly data was first gathered in 2000. Just over a third of all deaths were attributed to Covid-19 – rising to more than half in London and 37% in the West Midlands, two of the worst affected areas.
In the previous week ending 3 April, 3,475 of deaths registered in England and Wales mentioned “novel coronavirus (Covid-19)” – 21% of those who died.
According to separate, more up-to-date, figures from NHS hospitals in England and Wales released daily by Public Health England, the total death toll from confirmed Covid-19 since the start of the epidemic in hospitals in England and Wales reached 15,412 on Monday.
The latest figures on care deaths are set to fuel the row between social care bosses and ministers over whether enough has been done to save lives in care comes. Local Authority care bosses earlier this month warned the government that, in line with emerging research from the rest of the EU and North America, more people may be dying from coronavirus in care homes and the community than in hospitals, according to a leaked letter.
Ministers have continued to quote the ONS figures while being forced to acknowledge that it is out of data.
The Department of Health and Social Care says it takes a minimum of 11 days for deaths in care homes to feed through into reporting, with the process of death registration taking five days or more. It said it was working with the ONS to speed up the process. Care home operators are obliged by law to quickly inform the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, of deaths but it only started asking whether people had died from Covid-19 on 9 April, two and a half weeks after Boris Johnson announced the UK-wide lockdown. CQC figures are expected to be included in the official data from 27 April.