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Coronavirus crisis grows in UK care homes

The ONS said 406 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales registered up April 3 occurred outside of hospitals

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(Jonathan Brady/PA)

(Jonathan Brady/PA)

(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Around two-thirds of care homes run by Britain’s largest care home operator have cases of Covid-19, it has emerged, as pressure mounts on the Government over a growing crisis among older people.

Sir David Behan, former chief executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and now executive chairman of HC-One, said 232 care homes run by the firm have confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19.

He said the figures are a “more realistic picture” of what is going on in care homes across the UK than official figures suggest.

Sir David told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve been monitoring these numbers since the beginning of the outbreak and, as of yesterday evening at 8 o’clock, we’d had 2,447 of either suspected or confirmed Covid-19 within our care homes.

“It’s present in 232 of our homes, which is about two-thirds of the total number of homes that we run.”

He said 311 residents and one member of staff had died, and Covid-19 was responsible for about one in three elderly deaths at HC-One’s care homes in the last three weeks.

It comes after the Government confirmed there had been coronavirus outbreaks at more than 2,000 care homes in England.

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Sir David said he believed there will “always be a lag” in the figures reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on care home and community deaths.

But he called for “better discipline about the definitions that are being used to collect these figures” so they can be compared in a realistic way with reports from the community.

The ONS released figures showing a total of 406 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales registered up to April 3 occurred outside of hospitals.

Among those, 217 took place in care homes, 33 in hospices and 136 in homes.

These include cases where coronavirus is suspected or confirmed and mentioned on death certificates.

There have been suggestions over the last week that the true toll in care homes is actually much higher than that reported by the ONS.

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On Monday evening, Channel 4 News reported that a whistleblower working on death registrations in the south of England had said deaths were not being properly recorded.

Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday that care homes are struggling to source and pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and prices are “not sustainable” for the care sector.

She said the Government had removed VAT on essential kit for the NHS and urged it to do the same for the social care sector.

Ms Ahmed said one provider had paid £8,500 for just one week’s worth of PPE, adding: “We’ve said to the Chancellor ‘Take the VAT off PPE, these are essential items’.

“They’ve taken it off for the NHS but they’ve not moved it for social care … without our staff we can’t deliver the care.”

Speaking at the daily press briefing on Monday, England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said around 13.5% of care homes in the UK have registered an outbreak of Covid-19, and said he would like coronavirus testing to be increased in care homes.

Industry bosses warned that daily death tolls are “airbrushing out” hundreds of older people who have died in the care system, as Prof Whitty said outbreaks had been recorded at 92 care homes in the UK in just 24 hours.

Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said ministers must now “publish daily figures of deaths in care homes so we know the true scale of the problem and how fast it is spreading”.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said on Tuesday she thinks the current system is fair.

She told the Today programme: “I think that the certification by doctors is happening regularly, that is being collated by the ONS and it is being published weekly by the ONS.

“I think that is a fair system of getting that picture, that unfortunate picture, across the country of where deaths are happening due to coronavirus, and I think that is a trustworthy way to go about this by the medical certificates signed off by doctors.”

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Ms Coffey also she did not agree that the care sector is being left behind in tackling coronavirus, adding that PPE is being delivered regularly.

“So it is not a case that they are being left out; understandably, with the advice of the chief medical officer, we are prioritising our focus on where the clinical need is the greatest,” she said.

Ms Coffey also said “people will need to wait” to find out when lockdown measures across the UK will be lifted as more data on how the measures are working is gathered.

She added: “There are legislative elements which will need to be sorted out at the appropriate time, but we will continue to review the evidence.

“I’m conscious that people would like to know sooner but it would be irresponsible of the Government to just issue messages now without having been through that assessment and the recommendations and careful consideration of it.

“So people will have to just wait a little bit longer and more will be said at the end of this week.”

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, is due to hold its regular meeting on Tuesday to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic.

It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said lockdown restrictions should be lifted slowly and not “all at once” to avoid a resurgence of the virus, and only if appropriate measures are in place, including “significant” capacity for contact tracing.

Some 11,329 people have died in hospitals in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, with many more expected in care homes.

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