Nearly a million people unexpectedly bereaved during coronavirus pandemic – charity

Just under a million people in the UK have experienced an unexpected bereavement over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, new analysis suggests.

The Covid-19 outbreak has led to deaths from unexpected causes more than tripling, according to estimates from the charity bereavement service Sudden, which launched in July 2020 in response to the pandemic.

Deaths involving coronavirus and other unexpected causes accounted for one in four deaths in the year since March 2020, with unexpected deaths making up just 8% before the pandemic.

There have been around 190,000 sudden deaths in the year to March 2021, Sudden estimates, up from 50,000 before the pandemic.

This is based on deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate, as reported by the Office for National Statistics, and an estimated number of unexpected deaths occurring in a typical pre-pandemic year.

These include deaths from Covid-19, but also those due to accidents, murder, suicide or medical conditions such as a brain haemorrhage.

Previous research suggests for every death, five people are seriously bereaved, which would indicate 950,000 have been unexpectedly bereaved in the last year.

Seventeen charities, faith groups, academics and health professionals have launched a bereavement charter calling for access to specialist support for all those struggling to cope with a sudden death.

The Sudden Bereavement Charter says people affected should have a right to support from bereavement specialists, NHS mental health care, time off work, specialist legal help and financial support, if needed.

Mary Williams, Sudden chief executive, said: “The pandemic has laid bare the harrowing challenges facing families dealing with a totally unexpected bereavement.

“Sudden deaths leave us little or no time to say goodbye, causing immediate emotional and practical shock and turmoil. Most of us never expect it to happen and, if it does, we often need help to deal with the loss, shock and turmoil it causes.

“Due to Covid-19, almost a quarter are now from unexpected causes. The launch of today’s Charter champions the rights of those bereaved unexpectedly to access immediate care through the worst time of their lives – and to mitigate negative impacts on them, society and the economy.”

It comes amid concerns that bereavement charities and the hundreds of thousands of bereaved families they support are facing a cliff-edge in financial support.

Funding from the Department of Health and Social Care to sudden bereavement organisations, including Sudden, is due to end on March 31, the charity said.

Sudden said the economic cost of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be as high as £3 billion without the right support in place.

This is based on research into the effect of the 2005 London bombings, which found around 5% of people affected by a sudden or shocking death may develop PTSD if not given early effective support.

Researchers from the London School of Economics said the indirect and direct costs of supporting these people could be as much as £64,000 per person.

Ms Williams added: “We strongly urge the Government to commit to fund critical early bereavement support from April onwards for people who are suddenly bereaved.”

Minister for bereavement Nadine Dorries said: “Every death caused by this dreadful disease is a human tragedy and behind each one are families and friends left to grieving their loss.

“We have introduced difficult, but necessary restrictions to control the virus which have sadly limited how the bereaved are able to mourn. Many people have had to grieve without the close support of family and friends, and it is hard to compute how unbearable this has been for those people.

“The Government is on the side of people who are grieving and we have backed bereavement charities with £10.2 million to ensure they are there for people who need the invaluable support they offer.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Owen Humphries / PA.