Care home deaths: Why are coronavirus care home deaths so high?

It has emerged that 20,000 extra deaths have occurred in care homes in England and Wales this year, compared with the average figure. Between March 13 and May 8, a staggering 39,404 people died in care homes in England and Wales in total, from COVID-19 and other reasons.

The five-year average number of people who die in care homes during a usual period is 17,591, according to the Office for National Statistics.

This shockingly means an extra 21,813 deaths occurred during what the ONS record as week 12 and week 19, a rise of 124 percent.

Figures from the ONS and National Records of Scotland show there have been 11,414 deaths involving COVID-19 recorded in care homes.

These deaths include when coronavirus has been tested positive, and when coronavirus has been suspected as the cause of death.


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It is tricky to paint a clear picture of what is going on in care homes during this crisis.

Looking at those who have it on their death certificate does not illustrate an accurate picture of the crisis.

‘Excess of mortality’ is a term used to describe when more people would die than usual, in normal or unusual circumstances.

Some of those who have died from coronavirus may have died in the same period from something else – they could have already been coming to the end of their life.

Needless to say, this doesn’t make it any easier, nor better, that they died from coronavirus.

Excess mortality figures take into account the deaths of people who have died as an indirect result of the coronavirus crisis – for example, if they have died from cancer due to a lack of facilities being avaliable, or more likely if they are scared to come forward for treatment.

Hospitals have been reporting record lows for A&E admittances, resulting in the Government urging the public to seek emergency care should they feel they need it.

Why is the care home death rate so high?

It would be easy to assume this is simply down to old age.

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Your age is a clear factor which helps decide your chances of survival with COVID-19.

While it has been one saving grace of the pandemic that most children are not badly affected by COVID-19, the older generation has not been so lucky.

As you get older, your immune system doesn’t work as well as it does when you are young, naturally leading to having a harder time fighting off infections.

But this is not entirely the reason. Professionals who work in the care sector have cited a lack of provisions and methods of making care available being a contributing factor to why death rates are so high.

Also, fear of coming forward with symptoms has been reported, with some elderly people scared of going to the hospital.

While the Government has continually promised to deliver the necessary PPE for staff to work safely, this still isn’t happening in some places.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association in Scotland, told Sky News that reasons for excess care home deaths is down to a number of factors.

“We are in a pandemic [and] there has been some fairly chaotic guidance and very little clinical support.”

She says that when residents feel unwell in normal times, a GP would be called to the care home, but obviously, due to social distancing and self-isolation rules, this hasn’t been happening.

GP consultations have had to take place via video call, meaning physical exams have been missed.

“People may not be addressing those issues [of feeling unwell]. Those who are compos mentis might think, ‘I don’t want to get involved in all this, I’ll just keep quiet, I can manage this’.

“I don’t want to play a blame game here but this is about not having the normal levels of primary care support that [care homes] would normally have.”

Excess deaths in care homes have been an issue across the world during the coronavirus crisis.

In Belgium, more than half of all its COVID-19 deaths have occurred in hospitals.

Care home workers say the sector was initially overlooked, and they suffered from shortages of masks and skyrocketing prices for hand sanitiser.

In the US, in 14 states half of all fatalities are in a care home setting.

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