England’s Covid care home deaths could be thousands higher than official figures, say providers

·3 min read
The discharging of elderly hospital patients into care homes without testing for Covid was ‘one of the biggest tragedies last year’ (Getty)
The discharging of elderly hospital patients into care homes without testing for Covid was ‘one of the biggest tragedies last year’ (Getty)

Thousands more elderly people died with Covid in care homes than the official figures state, care providers have claimed.

A total of 39,017 people died in care homes in England in the year from 10 April 2020 to 31 March this year, according to Care Quality Commission (CQC) data that was published last month.

But the figure is likely to be higher because deaths that occurred before 10 April 2020, a date almost three weeks after the UK went into lockdown, were not being counted as Covid-related – care providers told The Sunday Telegraph.

A care home manager, who has not been named, has said that “thousands of elderly residents” are likely to have died during the nine days in the time between CQC having approved a policy, to allow Covid-positive elderly patients to be discharged from hospitals into care homes, and when counting of the deaths began.

The CQC approved a policy on 2 April 2020 that was drafted by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). It allowed infected patients to be transferred from hospitals into care homes in an effort to free up bed spaces.

Testing was also not required for asymptomatic patients being discharged into care homes.

It was not until 15 April 2020 that discharged patients were being tested for the virus before going into care homes.

Excess death data has been used to estimate the additional number of people who may have died with Covid.

Death records in the nine days leading up to April 10 show that 7,775 deaths occurred within this period, according to correspondance between a care home manager and the CQC’s information access team seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

This figure is 4,190 higher than the same period the year before – suggesting that the number of people that died with Covid in care homes over the year to the end of March is at least 43,000, rather than the 39,017 reported by the CQC.

One care home manager said the regulator “failed every one of its own standards” and described the CQC’s Covid policy of allowing hospital patients to be discharged to care homes without testing for the virus as “a death warrant”, the newspaper reported.

The discharging of Covid patients into care homes is “one of the biggest tragedies last year”, Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and chair of the Commons health select committee has said.

“Both the NHS and its regulators need to explain why we were less stringent than countries like Germany that did not allow untested patients into care homes unless they were fully quarantined,” he added.

A survey published by the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) in August last year found that 21 per cent of care home staff reported receiving residents from hospital who had tested positive for Covid.

Almost 10 per cent of the 163 respondents raised serious concerns over a “blanket” policy to not to resuscitate residents with Covid, that was implemented without consulting the residents’ families during March and April 2020.

Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee and Labour MP, had accused the government last year of allowing care homes to be “effectively thrown to the wolves”, adding that some of them were left to be “ravaged” by the virus.

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