Coronavirus deaths in English care homes could be double the number already reported, the Government has said.
The Department of Health also feared a “significant rise” in deaths not related to Covid-19 among residents, it said on Wednesday.
Official figures from the Office for National Statistics say there were 975 coronavirus deaths in care homes in England by April 10, however one care boss says his group alone has suffered hundreds of deaths.
Jeremy Richardson, chief executive of Four Seasons Health Care, says 240 residents have died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 across its 187 homes.
Suspected cases have been recorded in 60% of its residences, and 1,400 staff – representing around 11% of the total workforce – are in isolation.
Mr Richardson told the PA news agency: “We’re not operating in a different biosphere to the rest of the UK care sector.
“I know that our figures are very comparable with some of the other big providers because I speak to them.”
Mr Richardson said his care homes represent around 1% of total care home space in the UK and said Government figures on the issue have always been “materially understated”.
He added: “Once you finally decide you have to change your methodology, the data, and the way that you report, you’re now looking to close a gap that has grown significantly.”
“When they do finally catch up, we’re going to see what I think is going to be stark.
“It will be dramatic.”
In a statement with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Wednesday, the Government said: “It is anticipated that the number of deaths in care homes relating to Covid-19 reported by providers between April 11 and April 15 could be double the number of care home deaths reported yesterday.”
Shadow minister for social care Liz Kendall said: “These figures show the appalling impact that Coronavirus is having on elderly and disabled people in care homes.
“The Government must ensure everything possible is being done to protect more than 400,000 elderly and disabled people who live in nursing and residential care homes and publishing this data as soon as possible is a crucial step.
“Up to date figures on care homes deaths are essential to tackle the spread of the virus, ensure social care has the resources it needs and get vital PPE and testing to care workers on the frontline.”
The news comes after one care home boss said some protective equipment was now more than 24 times more expensive than it was before the pandemic.
Joyce Pinfield, a director at the National Care Association, told the PA news agency: “Just for basic surgical masks, we used to be paying something like 9p each plus VAT, at the moment it can range up to £2.20 per mask.”
Ms Pinfield said providers were paying thousands of pounds for deliveries that would only last a few days.
She explained: “If you are unlucky enough to have people that need this protective equipment all the time because they have got the virus within the care home, they can be using 10 masks per day.
“I have friends of mine who have been spending about £8,000 every 10 days just purely on masks.”