Care homes in England bore the brunt of UK coronavirus deaths

Care homes in England bore the brunt of UK coronavirus deaths, new figures show

  • Mortality rates rose to more than twice their normal level at the pandemic’s peak
  • There were 79 per cent more care home deaths in the first 16 weeks of the crisis
  • There has been much criticism of the apparent early failure to protect elderly 

Care homes in England may have seen the highest number of deaths from coronavirus in the UK.

Stark figures show mortality rates rose to more than twice their normal level at the height of the pandemic.

Over the first 16 weeks of the outbreak, there were 79 per cent more deaths in care homes than seen on average in the previous five years in England.

That compared with rises of 62 per cent in Scotland, 66 per cent in Wales and 46 per cent in Northern Ireland.

Over the first 16 weeks of the outbreak, there were 79 per cent more deaths in care homes than seen on average in the previous five years in England. Pictured: Stock photo of a care home worker comforting a grieving elderly woman

There has been much criticism of the apparent early failure to protect elderly, vulnerable people in care homes.

Thousands of hospital patients were discharged into homes at the start of the crisis and may still have had the virus.

Researchers led by the University of Stirling looked at ‘excess’ deaths, which are those above the expected number, for the report published by the International Long Term Care Policy Network.

They are seen by many experts as the best way to work out the true potential death toll of the virus.

These figures may pick up those who died from coronavirus but were not identified as having it plus those who died indirectly as a result of the virus.

This could be because other illnesses were missed or treated too late.

More than 500,000 adults lived in a residential or nursing home at the start or the pandemic and one in 25 is believed to have died from the virus.     

Professor David Bell, lead author of the research from the University of Stirling, said: ‘Given the variation in testing and death registration practices across the UK, it will never be possible to unequivocally assign care home deaths during the pandemic to Covid-19 or other causes.

‘Therefore, measuring excess deaths presents the most reliable approach by which to assess the relative failure or success in handling the pandemic in care homes.

‘Based on that internationally recognised approach, Scotland, Wales, and particularly England appear to have performed poorly.’

The Government decision to send 25,000 patients into care homes without tests has been described by the Public Accounts Commitee as ‘reckless’ and ‘appalling’.

The new study reports that 40 per cent of those who died from coronavirus over the first 16 weeks were care home residents.

More than half a million adults in the UK lived in a residential or nursing home at the start or the pandemic, and one in 25 are believed to have died from the virus.

At first glance, Scotland appears to have done worse for care home deaths, with 47 per cent of deaths attributed to the virus having taken place in these settings.

That compared to just 30 per cent in England.

But the excess deaths may pick up many extra deaths which were not realised to be caused by the virus because of ambiguous or mild symptoms, or deaths which were reported differently in different countries.

The researchers analysed deaths for the four nations from the week beginning March 9, when the first UK death from coronavirus happened, until almost the end of June.

At the peak of care home deaths, in weeks 15 to 18, up to 116 per cent more people died than expected in English care homes.

That compared to a peak of 80 per cent extra deaths in Scotland, 76 per cent in Wales and 66 per cent in Northern Ireland.

The study authors say more data is needed to be able to judge deaths properly.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Throughout our coronavirus response, we have worked with the care sector and public health experts to put in place measures to reduce transmission and save lives.

‘We are testing all residents and staff, have provided over two million items of PPE, funded a care home support package worth £600 million and made a further £3.7 billon available to councils to address pressures caused by the pandemic – including in adult social care.

‘This has meant 55 per cent of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all, and the proportion of coronavirus deaths in care homes is lower in England than many other European countries.’

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