Researchers say only Spain has seen a larger proportion of its care home population killed by the virus — but its actual death toll is thousands lower.
Up to 5.3 per cent of Britons living in care homes have died since February, when the coronavirus outbreak began to spiral out of control. In comparison, the rate is 6.1 per cent in Spain and just 0.4 per cent in Germany.
Shadow care minister for Labour, Liz Kendall MP, called the statistics ‘appalling’ and said the Government had been too slow to act on protecting care homes.
The study also estimated more than 32,000 people have died in the UK’s population of around 400,000 people living in the care homes — significantly more than official statistics show. Spain suffered around 20,000 deaths, by comparison.
According to the Office for National Statistics, at least 14,404 people had died with Covid-19 in care homes in England and Wales by June 12.
Bosses in the care sector were left dismayed during the peak of the crisis as they struggled to get protective equipment supplies and tests from the Government.
Experts say care homes were left behind as ministers focused their efforts on preparing hospitals for the pandemic, and it has now been homes bearing the huge burden of coronavirus outbreaks, which continue to rumble on months later.
The UK’s care home death rate is higher than almost any other country in Europe, with one in 20 residents dying of Covid-19. Although its rate is lower than Spain’s, a smaller number of residents means Britain’s total death toll is higher (Data from London School of Economics)
The paper, by the London School of Economics, compared the effects on care homes across European nations and the US and New Zealand, taking data from mid-June.
It found Spain suffered the most, with 6.1 per cent of its care home population wiped out by the disease — a total of at least 19,533 people.
But the researchers said it was difficult to compare Spain because of the way officials count cases. They wrote: ‘There is no way of knowing whether a region’s data refers only to confirmed cases or if non-confirmed cases are also included.’
Data in the paper showed, however, that care home residents in Britain had died at a rate 13 times higher than those in Germany, where 0.4 per cent of its some 800,000 residents had passed away.
France saw half the rate of care home deaths as Britain, at 2.4 per cent of its 600,000 residents.
This graph shows that countries did not necessarily see a greater Covid-19 death toll in care homes simply because they had more people in homes – Germany, Slovenia, and Canada, for example, have greater proportions of people in care homes (blue bars) than Spain and the UK, where the death tolls (orange bars) were considerably higher
Care home residents made up a staggering 64 per cent of all Covid-19 fatalities in Belgium, compared to 41 per cent in England and Wales. The proportion of residents is higher because some of them were moved to hospitals before they died
And Italy, one of the worst-affected countries in the early stages of the pandemic, experienced the deaths of 3.1 per cent of the 300,000 care home residents there.
The LSE researchers noted that countries where smaller proportions of care home residents had died tended to have smaller numbers of people in homes overall – with the exception of Germany.
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE HAD THE HIGHEST CARE HOME DEATH RATES?
According to the London School of Economics, Spain has seen the largest proportion of its care home residents killed by Covid-19 during the pandemic.
These are how different countries were affected:
- Spain: 6.1% of residents died
- UK: 5.3%
- Belgium: 4.9%
- Ireland: 3.2%
- Italy: 3.1%
- Sweden: 2.8%
- France: 2.4%
- Canada: 1.5%
- Slovenia: 0.5%
- Denmark: 0.5%
- Norway: 0.4%
- Germany: 0.4%
- Austria: 0.3%
- Hungary: 0.2%
- New Zealand: 0.04%
Labour’s shadow minister for care, Liz Kendall, told The Guardian: ‘These appalling figures raise serious concerns about the government’s handling of Covid-19 in care homes compared to other countries, and that they were too slow to act to keep older and disabled people safe.’
She said officials must learn from the mistakes made in Britain’s first wave of the pandemic and pump more money into the care sector, which is mostly privately run but has close links to NHS hospitals and local councils.
The care sector in Britain last week welcomed a new Government testing study which will involve 10,000 residents and staff at 106 homes around the country.
This will involve regular swab and blood tests to track the spread of the virus and see where it has spread already.
Government officials have come under fire for not protecting care homes well enough, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock claiming they threw a ‘protective ring’ around the sector at the start of the outbreak.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report this month found that care homes were overlooked in order to protect the NHS.
The report also found that plans to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) were hampered because officials ignored warnings in 2019 to stockpile gowns and visors – and didn’t have enough of them when the need arose.
This resulted in less than half of the necessary equipment being available to healthcare workers on the frontlines of the crisis.
At least 300 healthcare staff have died from coronavirus so far and bereaved families and health unions say a lack of PPE is partly to blame.
Chair of the public accounts committee and a Labour MP in London, Ms Hillier, said: ‘Care homes were at the back of the queue for both PPE and testing so only got a small fraction of what they needed from central government.
‘Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.’
Coronavirus is harder to contain within care homes because many residents are not capable of looking after themselves so cannot self-isolate when they’re ill (Pictured: A carer in protective equipment helps a resident)
Care home residents are at a much higher risk than the general public of dying if they catch the coronavirus, because it is more deadly for older people.
The reasons for this are still not clear, but higher rates of other health conditions affecting the heart, lungs and brain, and general frailty, are thought to be to blame.
It is also harder to contain the virus in care homes because many people are unable to live independently so rely on regular close contact with workers, who often care for multiple people at a time.
Cases are also thought to be harder to detect because residents are often ill with other conditions with similar symptoms, and may not show typical signs of Covid-19.
|Country||Total Covid-19 deaths||Covid-19 deaths
in care residents
in care homes
|Care home population|
|New Zealand||22||N/A||16||38,000 (beds)|
|England & Wales||48,538||19,700||14,364||411,000 (all UK)|
|Northern Ireland||795||412||338||411,000 (all UK)|
|Scotland||4,070||1,777||1,896||411,000 (all UK)|
The Government’s policy for testing in care homes, during the peak of the outbreak, was to test a small sample in the home and, if positive cases were found, to assume there was an outbreak in the home and automatically classify other people with similar symptoms as coronavirus patients.
Widespread testing only became available in April.
The NAO report said: ‘Due to government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for Covid-19 before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms.
‘We have reported on successive efforts to integrate the two sectors: there have been 12 government white papers, green papers and consultations, and five independent reviews on integration over the past 20 years.
‘Going into the pandemic, meaningful integration was still to occur, however, and the lack of it has made responding to the crisis more difficult in a number of ways.’
UP TO 10,000 UK CARE HOME RESIDENTS AND STAFF TO GET ROUTINE COVID-19 TESTS
Up to 10,000 care home residents and staff in England will get monthly coronavirus tests, the government has announced.
Health officials launched another surveillance scheme in hope of tracking how Covid-19 spreads through nursing homes around the country.
Care minister Helen Whately — who has come under fire for appearing to blame scientific advisers for the catastrophe that unfolded in care homes — said the results will help plan to prepare care homes in the future.
The new testing programme will be carried out at 106 care homes run by Four Seasons, with thousands of residents and staff tested for past and present infection.
The government has selected a representative sample of 10,000 staff and residents across 106 homes.
They will be given swab tests – to see if they are currently infected – three times each over the next four months.
And they will also be given antibody tests – which test the blood to look for signs of past infection – in three months’ time.
Those who test positive for antibodies, which could mean they are immune to reinfection, will be followed up after six months and then again after a year to see how long the antibodies last for.
The study will reveal what proportion of care home residents and staff have caught the disease, and the swab testing will hopefully pick up any new or ongoing outbreaks. It is being run with the help of University College London.