Weekly care home deaths start to fall but remain well above normal levels

ONS and CQC data show reductions in fatalities in homes but year-to-date deaths running at 42% above previous-year averages as concerns persist on access to PPE and testing

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

Story updated 13 May

The weekly toll of deaths in care homes in England and Wales has fallen over the past fortnight but numbers remain well above average levels in previous years.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded 6,409 deaths in care homes in the week ending 1 May, with 2,423 registered as involving Covid-19, marking a fall from the previous week’s totals of 7,911 overall and 2,794 involving Covid.

Separately collected figures from the Care Quality Commission showed that, in the week to 8 May, providers notified the regulator of 4,657 deaths of care home residents in England, 2,115 of which were reported as involving Covid-19, down from 6,663 overall and 3,117 involving Covid the previous week*.

The falls follow successive weeks in which the number of deaths in care homes have mounted to levels that far outstripped those in previous years, both because of the spread of Covid-19 in settings and the apparent impact of wider pressures across health and social care in the level of deaths recorded as not involving the disease.

Despite the drops in weekly deaths, numbers are well above normal levels, with three times as many deaths in care homes in the week up to 1 May than the averages for the equivalent week in the five previous years, which was 2,019.

Overall, cumulative deaths in care homes are 42% higher up to the start of May than the averages for the five previous years. From 2015-2019, 44,949 died in care homes in England and Wales on average in the first 18 weeks of the year, but this year the total stands at 63,987, 8,312 involving Covid-19.

Responding to the figures, care minister Helen Whately said:  “It is a relief to see the number of deaths in care homes falling, but they sadly they continue to make up a significant proportion of coronavirus related deaths and our work is not done. Supporting the social care sector through this pandemic has always been a priority, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure they have all they need to look after those in their care.’’

£600m to tackle infection control in care homes

Following the news, the government announced £600m of funding for councils to spend on improving infection control in care homes, taking overall coronavirus spending on councils to £3.8bn.

The money was welcomed by care provider and local government leaders.

“This extra funding for infection control in care homes is good news and will help councils’ public health teams in their efforts to reduce and prevent coronavirus outbreaks,” said Ian Hudspeth, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board.

“In order to play their full part in defeating this disease, councils need extra help and information to understand where outbreaks more widely are happening and be able to act quickly to contain them. The Government needs to share this vital and up-to-date data with councils, as part of any contact tracing programme.”

However, UNISON’s assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said: “There’s clearly no major slowdown in the devastation being experienced in care homes, causing heartache for so many families. It’s not just the lives of vulnerable residents that are being lost, but care workers too.”

This is a reference to separate ONS figures issued yesterday that showed that deaths involving Covid-19 among social care workers were far outstripping those of health staff and the general working population. 

McAnea referenced the ongoing concerns among unions and providers among inadequate access to personal protective equipment for care staff, and to testing for both staff and residents.

She added “It remains vital that supplies of proper safety kit keep on coming to stop the spread within care homes and out in the community. The government must now put in place an effective system of testing, tracking and tracing as a matter of urgency.”

Whateley added that the government had made “millions of items of PPE available across the social care system” and capacity was now available to deliver 30,000 tests a day to staff and residents in homes for older people.

* The discrepancies between the CQC and ONS figures are because they are collected on a different basis. The ONS figures refer to England and Wales, and the CQC’s to England alone; the ONS figures are dated according to the date of death, while the CQC’s are dated to the date on which the provider notified the regulator; the ONS data on Covid-19 deaths are based on cases where the disease was recorded on the death certificate, while the CQC figures are based on the provider’s judgment on whether the person’s death involved Covid. The CQC figures also record deaths of care home residents in other settings, such as hospitals or where the place of death was not recorded, while the ONS’s cover deaths in care homes. 

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