Fears half of coronavirus deaths may be in care homes as officials accused of ‘airbrushing out’ older people

UK death figures are “airbrushing out” hundreds of older people, Age UK claims, after a university study found that half of coronavirus deaths in Europe appear to be in care homes.

Charity leaders have warned that older people are dying in care homes where workers are facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a lack of testing.

To keep vulnerable people safe, some care homes have implemented a blanket ban on visitors to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Care England, the largest independent provider, has estimated there have been nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes, leaving social care as “the neglected front line”.

Provisional figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on April 7 showed around one in 14 coronavirus-related deaths in England and Wales could be happening outside hospitals.

In the week ending March 27, for those deaths that were registered with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS found 38 out of 539 occurred in hospices, care homes or other locations, accounting for seven per cent of the total.

It was the first time the ONS had published a weekly breakdown of coronavirus-related deaths that have happened both in and out of hospital, but these figures are only applicable in England and Wales and have a time lag of several days as they are based on registered death certificates.

However Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, said the lack of PPE and testing was leading to Covid-19 “running wild” in care homes.

“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter,” she said.

Her comments come following an analysis of coronavirus deaths in Europe which suggest the UK may be underestimating care sector deaths. 

In Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium, between 42 per cent and 57 per cent of deaths from the virus have been happening in homes, according to a report by academics at the London School of Economics.

Care England, Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society have written to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary,  demanding a care package to support social care through the pandemic.

As well as PPE and testing, they are asking for the package to include palliative and end of life care for people dying in the care system, as well as a daily update on the number of deaths.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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