Weekly care home deaths double in a fortnight but only minority of rise down to Covid-19

Government and CQC say rise in non-coronavirus related deaths in official figures 'a particular concern' but that Covid-19 fatalities escalating fast

Image of coronavirus (credit: Romolo Tavani / Adobe Stock)
(credit: Romolo Tavani / Adobe Stock)

Story updated 22 April

Weekly registered care home deaths in England and Wales have doubled within a fortnight but only a minority of the rise involved Covid-19, official figures have shown.

The number of deaths in care home rose from 2,489 in the week ending 27 March to 4,927 in the week ending 10 April, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released today showed.

However, while the number of weekly deaths in care homes recorded as involving Covid-19 rose sharply in that time – from 20 to 826 – this accounted for just one-third of the increase in total care home deaths.

The Department of Health and Social Care and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said that the rise in non-coronavirus related deaths were “a particular concern” and they would examine the causes.

However, they also said that data collected by the CQC from providers suggested that the number of care home deaths from Covid-19 in the days following the 10 April could be double the 1,043 recorded in the year to date in the ONS figures. Also, in the daily Downing Street briefing on 22 April, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that the number of deaths recorded by the ONS involving Covid-19 was likely to be an underestimate.

Mounting concerns

The increase in recorded deaths follow mounting concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on care homes, including that the number of fatalities have been underestimated.

The ONS only started publishing weekly death figures by place of occurrence – including the number attributed to Covid-19 – from the week ending 13 March 2020.

However, while weekly care home deaths were relatively stable in the first three weeks, at just under 2,500, they rose sharply in the subsequent two weeks, those ending 3 and 10 April.

The CQC has now started collecting information from providers about deaths involving Covid-19.

Responding to the ONS figures, the DHSC and CQC said: “The ONS data published yesterday covers the period until 10 April. CQC’s current preliminary analysis is up to 15 April; it is anticipated that the number of deaths in care homes relating to COVID-19 reported by providers between 11 April and 15 April could be double the number of care home deaths reported yesterday.

‘Particular concern’

“In common with the ONS, CQC’s preliminary analysis also indicates there may be a significant rise in non-COVID-19 deaths. This is of particular concern and we will be exploring the factors that may be driving this with local authorities, adult social care trade associations, PHE, NHSE – to ensure timely action is taken to safeguard people. This work will also inform the ONS’ longer-term research project on non-COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic.”

It is unclear how far the increase in the number of the deaths that were not recorded as involving Covid-19 was down to coronavirus-related fatalities being missed. Research published by provider umbrella body the National Care Forum last week suggested more than 2,500 people died in UK care homes from suspected or confirmed Covid-19 in the week 7-13 April, well above the 826 from 4-10 April recorded by the ONS for English and Welsh homes.

However, it’s possible that the rise in non-Covid-19 deaths could be significantly down to an increase in fatalities from other causes due to the pressures the pandemic is creating across the whole health and social care system.

In the daily Downing Street press briefing on 22 April, Professor Chris Whitty said that he thought that the ONS figures for care homes was likely to underestimate the number of deaths from Covid-19. But he said the true test of the impact was in the number of excess deaths in the population, from all causes, compared to a normal year as this would capture the direct and indirect impact of the coronavirus.

This was echoed by health think-tank the Health Foundation, which said the figures for Covid-19 related deaths in care homes in the ONS figures was likely to be an underestimate and the overall rise in care home deaths was “likely to be a more accurate indication of the scale of the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on those living in care homes”.

Overall, the ONS figures showed that there were 18,516 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 10 April, 7,996 than the average for the corresponding week over the previous five years.

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