The health secretary said that in an effort to “bring as much transparency as possible” to the death figures, from tomorrow the government will publish not just the number of deaths in hospital each day, but also the number of deaths in care homes and in the community. It’s feared this will make the death toll appear to spike.
Testing will be expanded to all care home residents and staff, regardless of whether they have Covid-19 symptoms, and all those aged 65 and over with symptoms and their households, Mr Hancock said.
The government has faced widespread criticism for not including care home and community deaths in its daily statistics, unlike some other countries.
“Building on successful pilots, we will be rolling out testing of asymptomatic residents and staff in care homes in England, and to patients and staff in the NHS,” Mr Hancock said.
Professor Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said the data showed hospital admissions and deaths in hospitals were falling, with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 dropping by 14 per cent in the past week.
She added: “It has been a particularly dramatic fall in London.”
Mr Hancock said the government was on track to meet the goal of 100,000 tests a day and now had the capacity to carry out more than 70,000 tests a day.
Prof John Newton, co-ordinator of the national testing effort, addressing the spread of the virus in care homes, said: “We’ve done some intensive studies of infection in care homes. What that showed was that the presence of symptoms was not really a good marker in the care home setting, both among residents and staff, for the presence of the virus.
“There were significant numbers who were asymptomatic who had the virus and so we have massively increased the amount of testing available.
“We have now tested 25,000 residents in care homes and we are rolling out testing now to symptomatic and asymptomatic residents, as well as providing testing through the drive-through centres and other means.”
He said the change to recording additional deaths, which will supplement the weekly figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Care Quality Commission, will add to understanding of how the virus is spreading day by day, and “it will help inform the judgments that we make as we work to keep people safe”.
Figures from the ONS and CQC show there have been more than 5,000 deaths linked to the virus in English care homes, with experts warning the numbers of deaths may not yet have reached their peak.
When asked whether he would apologise to the bereaved relatives of coronavirus victims in care homes because of failures to protect them, Mr Hancock said it was “unreasonable as a question”.
“From the start we knew that there was a very significant challenge with care homes, not least because of the frailty of the residents,” he added.
It had been “more difficult to get data flowing” from care homes but that was now being done.
Because of the risks posed by the virus to the elderly, “making sure that care homes have the support they need has been absolutely at front of mind right from the start”, he insisted.
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