Hancock promises to increase testing for care homes as deaths rise

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to increase testing for those in care homes for Covid-19 Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised to address the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on care homes as England’s chief medical officer admitted there would likely be a “high mortality rate” in the facilities during the coronavirus crisis.

Professor Chris Whitty said current figures suggesting more than 1,000 people have died in care homes after contracting Covid-19 were likely to be an “underestimate” because care residents were a vulnerable group.

The Daily Express reported Mr Hancock had vowed to increase testing in the facilities days after the Government and Care Quality Commission (CQC) said deaths in England’s care homes during a five-day period could be double the total figure already reported.

Mr Hancock wrote the Government was “increasing PPE supplies to social care, creating a supply, logistics and distribution network of unprecedented scale”.

He added he would “strain every sinew to make sure (the care sector) has what it needs at this important time in our history”.

Meanwhile, Prof Whitty told reporters that the 826 deaths reported in England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the week ending April 10 were “an underestimate”.

These latest figures bring the total number of Covid-19 care home deaths since the start of the outbreak to 1,043.

“The numbers that have been ascribed to Covid directly in ONS statistics are still relatively modest,” Prof Whitty said.

“But I have said repeatedly in data, the fact that the ONS said in their last weekly report, 826 deaths, every one of them a tragedy, but I think that will be an underestimate.”

Credit: PA Graphics

Prof Whitty said it was important to look at all deaths in care homes in data for a “true picture”, taking into account direct deaths caused by the virus as well as indirect deaths.

“When we look back over this epidemic, and I want to be really clear, we are not anywhere near being able to say, ‘right, that’s done, we can look back’,” he said.

“When we are at that stage, I am sure we will see a high mortality rate sadly in care homes, because this is a very, very vulnerable group.

“And people are coming in and out of care homes and that cannot, to some extent, be prevented.”

In a statement with the CQC on Wednesday, the Government said it anticipated deaths related to Covid-19 between April 11 and 15 in England’s care homes could be double those reported in the week up to April 10.

The Department of Health also feared a “significant rise” in deaths not related to Covid-19 among residents.

Although official figures show there were 975 coronavirus deaths in care homes in England by April 10, one care boss says his group alone has suffered hundreds of deaths.

Jeremy Richardson, chief executive of Four Seasons Health Care, says 240 residents had died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 across its 187 homes.

Suspected cases have been recorded in 60% of its residences, and 1,400 staff – representing around 11% of the total workforce – were in isolation.