Half of coronavirus deaths happening in care homes amid concerns of UK ‘airbrushing’ figures, according to EU data

Charity boss warns government figures are ‘lagging behind’ real death toll

Conrad Duncan
Tuesday 14 April 2020 11:38 BST
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A senior minister has denied care home residents are being 'airbrushed out' of official coronavirus death tolls

About half the deaths from coronavirus are happening in care homes, according to data from five European countries, amid fears that elderly people in care in the UK are being treated “like lambs to the slaughter”.

Data collected from official sources in Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium and France by the International Long Term Care Policy Network (LTCPN) showed 42-57 per cent of all deaths linked to Covid-19 were among care home residents.

The figures came after care home bosses warned the UK’s daily death tolls, which only show hospital deaths, were “airbrushing out” hundreds of older people who have died in the care system.

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the charity Marie Curie, has said the government figures published every day are “lagging behind the big number” as care home deaths are not included.

However, Thérèse​ Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, insisted on Tuesday that the government was only reporting hospital deaths on a daily basis because they were “accurate and quick” to produce.

When asked about whether older people were being airbrushed out of the death toll, Ms Coffey said figures from care homes would be collated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and published on a weekly basis.

“I think that is a fair system of getting that unfortunate picture across the country of where deaths are happening due to coronavirus,” she added.

“And I think that’s a trustworthy way to go about this, by the medical certificates signed off by doctors.”

ONS figures released on Tuesday showed more than 2,000 extra deaths linked to Covid-19 had occurred in England and Wales by 3 April compared to the number reported by the Department of Health and Social Care at that time.

The ONS data included deaths in community setting such as private homes as well as care homes, recording deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.

The LTCPN report suggested that the clearest data for coronavirus mortality in care homes came from Ireland, where there is a centralised system to collect information relating to Covid-19.

As of Saturday, there had been 6,444 cases of Covid-19 and 288 deaths in the country, of which 156, or 54 per cent, were care home residents.

The most recent figures from Belgium suggested 1,405 care home deaths from coronavirus, 42 per cent of the total, while figures from Spain were based on media reports of regional government figures for the month to 8 April that cited 8,345 deaths in aged care facilities, or 57 per cent of the total.

Although the study’s authors noted that the definitions of care homes differed between countries so the data was not comparable, they argued that it was still important to monitor the levels of infections and deaths for care residents.

“There is a danger that, by not attempting to measure them even if imperfectly, opportunities to inform the decisions that policymakers make in terms of resource allocations to the care sector may be missed,” they said

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said on Monday about 13.5 per cent of care homes in the UK had registered a coronavirus outbreak and acknowledged he would like to see more testing in such settings

On Tuesday, Sir David Behan, the non-executive director of HC-One, Britain’s largest care home operator, said Covid-19 was present in two-thirds of their care homes.

“We’ve been monitoring these numbers since the beginning of the outbreak and, as of yesterday evening at 8 o’clock, we’d had 2,447 of either suspected or confirmed Covid-19 within our care homes,” Sir David told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It’s present in 232 of our homes, which is about two-thirds of the total number of homes that we run.

“And again, as of last night, there have been 311 residents who have died as a result of, or suspected, Covid-19. And indeed sadly over the weekend we’ve lost one member of staff.”

Meanwhile, Baroness Ros Altmann, a Conservative peer and former work and pensions minister, said “one or two people from care homes” have told her they feel as though elderly people are being treated “like lambs to slaughter” during the epidemic.

“We seem to have this artificial distinction between the NHS and what is called social care or elderly care in particular, and that is being overlooked, it seems to me,” she told BBC Radio 4.

“You know the government has real problems and of course it has got difficult decisions to make, but we must not forget that the mark of a civilised society must reflect how it treats its most vulnerable and oldest citizens.”

Additional reporting by PA

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