Care home death toll likely to go up, says top health official

The number of deaths from coronavirus in care homes may have to be revised upwards, a senior Public Health England official has admitted, as the government confirmed the total number of deaths from the pandemic has risen to more than 26,000.

After indicating that deaths in care homes and in the community may still be rising, Yvonne Doyle, PHE’s medical director, told Wednesday’s daily Downing Street press briefing the figure for deaths may be revised again.

“In due course those deaths sadly may occur on death certificates, so we may expect more than we are seeing at the moment, yes,” she said.

Doyle’s words followed the announcement that 26,097 patients had died across the UK after testing positive for coronavirus. That was 3,811 deaths more than the figure available on Tuesday, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said.

The jump followed a change in how the toll is calculated, with the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community included in the government’s daily updates from now on.

The total reached by the new method of reporting is around 17% higher than previous data showed and includes an additional 3,811 deaths recorded since the start of the outbreak. Of these extra fatalities, around 70% were outside hospital settings and around 30% were in hospital.

Raab said: “I think it is important to say that those additional deaths were spread over the period for 2 March to 28 April so they don’t represent a sudden surge in the number of deaths.”

Separate data from PHE showed that more than 30% of all care homes in England have reported suspected or confirmed coronavirus outbreaks.

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While new data showed that hospital deaths were falling, Doyle said she could not yet say whether deaths in care homes were doing the same. “We should know that soon because the hospital curve has declined,” she said.

Doyle said the care home sector was “most complex” with 16,000 homes and the need for local intelligence to identify where there were issues. “The scale and the speed of this epidemic is really in the last couple of weeks.

“There is a huge national and local endeavour to not just test – which is very important – but also understand the measures that make a difference in care homes and to look at that in a very rapid way, looking at the evidence, so that we can put in place measures that protect people.”

Asked if deaths could have been avoided if there had been better testing and screening for care home residents, Raab said there was “always learning in an unprecedented crisis like this that we will want to feed back in”.

“The key thing above all is to manage the ebb and flow of people into those care homes that might carry the virus, and that of course includes family members and friends, it includes people that are working in more than one care home setting, it includes NHS staff.

“So on top of testing and PPE … I think that is probably the single most important aspect,” Raab said.

He acknowledged there had been a “distribution issue” in getting tests for care home staff and residents. “We have expanded the eligibility. Eligibility now includes anyone in a care home whether resident or staff.

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“We have obviously had a distribution issue, there is no sugar coating the challenge we have had with that,” he said.



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