Coronavirus death toll ‘airbrushing out’ hundreds of older people dying in care homes
Care sector bosses have said daily death tolls are “airbrushing out” hundreds of elderly people who have died at care homes.
Charity leaders have warned older people are dying in care homes where workers are facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and 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.
This has been the case for former social worker Julie Ding, 56, who has not been able to see her dying mother for more than a month.
Julie, from Allerton Bywater, West Yorkshire, was a full-time carer of her mother, Roberta Ding, 83, after she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2018.
Her condition rapidly deteriorated and soon she was unable to walk or speak and could only breathe through a tracheostomy with the help of a ventilator.
Julie said her mother was in hospital before the coronavirus outbreak reached the UK and was subsequently taken to a nursing home on March 2.
It was the last time Julie physically saw her mother as she has only been able to contact her through video calls since.
Julie is desperate for her mother to return home as she worries Roberta’s condition will worsen and she will die at the nursing home alone.
After her only sibling, Susan, died aged 49 in 2010, Julie has no family other than her mother.
“I made a promise to my mum that I will always be by her side,” she said.
“I’m allowed in when she’s in the last throes of death, the manager will decide.”
Matthew Reed (pictured), chief executive of charity Marie Curie, said it should be possible for care homes to allow visitors for people who are dying.
But he added: “The lack of PPE and testing means workers at care homes are not well equipped to support a number of people dying in quick succession.
“The life of a care home worker is just as valuable as people working in intensive care.”
He said the figures released everyday of hospital deaths are “lagging behind the big number” as care home deaths are not part of the daily figures published by the Government.
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 7% of the total.
It was the first time the ONS 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.
“We therefore risk not recognising the human cost of Covid-19,” Mr Reed added.
His sentiments were shared by Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, who said the lack of PPE and testing is leading to Covid-19 “running wild” in care homes.
“The problem is there’s not enough of either,” she told the PA news agency.
“And what there is is going to the NHS, which is the right decision but it is leaving care settings in a difficult position.
“We were underprepared for this, we are playing catch-up on getting enough PPE and testing, I’m wondering if the needs of care homes were taken seriously early on.”
She joined Mr Reed and leaders from Care England, Independent Age and the Alzheimer’s Society in writing a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding a care package to support social care through the pandemic.
As well as PPE and testing, they are asking for the care 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.
Care England has estimated there have been nearly 1,000 deaths from coronavirus in care homes, leaving social care as “the neglected front-line”, the letter reads.
Ms Abrahams said: “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”
It comes after Mr Hancock said he can guarantee regular coronavirus testing for the care sector.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday, Mr Hancock said measures are being taken but the process is “nuanced and complicated”.
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