Two of UK’s largest care home providers report 521 coronavirus deaths | World news

Two of the largest providers of care homes in the UK have revealed the deaths of 521 residents from coronavirus in recent weeks, in the clearest sign yet of the rising scale of fatalities outside the NHS which are not yet being officially announced.

HC One, which operates about 350 homes, said that as of 8pm on Monday there had been 311 deaths from confirmed or suspected Covid-19 with outbreaks in two thirds of its homes. MHA, a charitable operator, said there have been 210 deaths across 131 homes, with outbreaks in about half of its homes.

The figures contrast both with Monday’s assertion by Chris Whitty, the UK government’s chief medical adviser, that there are outbreaks in one in seven care homes in England and data published weekly by the Office for National Statistics which has a 10-day time lag. The ONS’s weekly death toll for the week ending 27 March stated there were 20 deaths from Covid-19 in care homes in England and Wales. Figures for the following week are due to be published today.

MHA’s figures up to Monday also suggest a considerable increase of 89 fatalities in the last six days. Last Tuesday, it told the Guardian, there had been 121 deaths.

A study published at the weekend by academics at the London School of Economics of early figures from Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium appear to show that care home deaths may account for about half of the total death toll.

The National Care Association has warned that deaths in care homes risk being “airbrushed out” with the headline daily death toll announced by the government only relating to deaths in the NHS. The ONS is gathering care home figures from death certificates where doctors report that a fatality was confirmed or suspected of having occurred because of the virus.

Sir David Behan, executive chairman of HC1, said: “Covid-19 deaths are representative of about a third of all deaths we have had over the last three weeks. We have staff feeling anxious not just about PPE [personal protective equipment], but that they will catch the virus and bring it home to their loved ones.”

He said staff also felt helpless about seeing people they had cared for, in many cases for several years, perish from the disease.

Scotland has officially confirmed that Covid-19 is present in about a third of its care homes. On Monday the Scottish health secretary, Jeane Freeman, said it had been identified in 406 facilities. As in England there have been clusters of deaths in Scotland including 13 in one Glasgow care home. Whitty said on Monday that in the preceding 24 hours there had been 92 new outbreaks in care settings in England.

Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, defended the government’s approach to publishing data only after it has been extracted by the ONS from death certificates saying that it was “trustworthy”.

“That is a fair system of getting that unfortunate picture across the country where there are deaths from coronavirus,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We are absolutely being transparent, but what the gov wants to provide at its daily briefing is quick information, accurate information.”

Ros Altmann, the former government minister, has said care home residents “are being abandoned like lambs to the slaughter”.

She told Today: “It’s what one or two people from care homes have said to me. They are left without protective equipment, they can’t find it, or testing even if they request it, it’s not always given to them. They haven’t got the staff they need… and they feel that the NHS has kind of left them in the lurch. GPs are not coming into the care homes in the way that they used to and some are finding if people need to be hospitalised either that tends to be very difficult or if people are sent to hospital they are sent back very quickly and there are no tests so they don’t know if these people are infecting others in their care homes.”

She added that “because no family are allowed to visit, there is very little scrutiny”.

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