A further increase in the number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in care homes in England and Wales has pushed mortality levels to a new high.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the number of overall deaths in care homes for the week ending 17th April (week 16) stood at 7316. This was 2389 higher than the previous week – an increase of 48.5%.
NHS data released daily showing the number of people dying from COVID-19 in hospitals may have peaked on the 8th April. But the latest figures from the ONS suggest that the number of deaths in care homes is continuing to rise.
The provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales at the end of week 16 was 22,351. This was an increase of 3835 on the previous week, a rise of 20.7%.
This was the highest weekly total recorded since comparable figures began in 1993.
Most deaths linked to COVID-19 are still happening in hospitals (77.4%), with the remainder occurring in care homes, private homes, and hospices.
In week 16, the proportion of deaths in care homes involving COVID-19 stood at 28.0%.
Care Home Deaths 'Likely to be Much Higher'
Nick Stripe, head of the health analysis and life events division at the ONS, told the BBC that the number of deaths in care homes linked to COVID-19 was likely to be much higher by now.
He explained how the ONS had combined its own figures with more up-to-date information from the Care Quality Commission.
"If you take that data, we can see the Care Quality Commission has figures for England of 4343 deaths in care homes between 10th and 24th April, so much more current, that’s last Friday.
"And we know that we had 1000 deaths registered in care homes prior to 10th April.
"So in total we are looking at around at least 5500 deaths in care homes in England related to COVID by 24th April."
The ONS bases its figures on death certificates while the Care Quality Commission (CQC) does so based on statutory notifications by care home providers.
The ONS and the CQC announced today that they had now agreed to publish provisional counts of deaths in care homes.
A statement said the figures would be published as part of the ONS's weekly deaths release, and would include:
The total count of deaths in England per day where the death was in a care home and was notified by the care home operator as involving COVID-19
The count of deaths in care homes by local authority in England per week, divided into all deaths and deaths notified as involving COVID-19.
Commenting on today's figures, Sarah Deeny, assistant director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, said: "Today's data highlights the extent of the challenge for the social care sector in caring for the elderly and vulnerable and protecting them against COVID-19.
"The system is clearly in acute need of support and, while the Government has proposed a plan of action, more needs to be done in the short and long-term."
Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, said the latest figures demonstrated "the need to really think through the strategy now in nursing homes in particular to stabilise the infection".
Speaking in a briefing to specialist journalists organised by the Science Media Centre, Prof Heneghan, who is also a GP working in urgent care, explained: "What I'm saying is the activity in the Nightingale hospitals, as I understand it, is there are no patients virtually in any of the hospitals."
He said in order to help eradicate COVID-19 "we should switch our focus from the Nightingale hospitals to nursing homes".