Undiagnosed coronavirus is a “likely explanation” for some excess deaths not linked to Covid-19 in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics has said.
So far this year, there have been 13,000 excess deaths which have not been recorded as Covid-19. The largest number of those were in care homes.
Research into possible explanations for non-Covid-19 excess deaths in elderly people found a number of death certificates stated more information would be provided later.
Some of those have since been updated to mention coronavirus, which supports the theory Covid-19 is under-diagnosed at present on death certificates, the ONS added.
Deaths involving coronavirus could also be recorded as non-Covid deaths if a person had severe underlying health conditions which were made worse by coronavirus, including deaths due to chronic lower respiratory disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The ONS added this underreporting was particularly prevalent in women and those in care homes.
What do the figures show?
The number of deaths recorded as asthma and diabetes are also “significantly” higher than the five year average, which could indicate those with conditions are not receiving care fast enough to prevent deaths, due to the additional pressures on the healthcare system.
Deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s have also soared.
The ONS said it was “plausible” some deaths are because undiagnosed Covid-19 had “exacerbated the pre-existing condition”.
It is unclear whether stress-related deaths brought on by the lockdown were a factor.
Reduced hospital capacity was also considered, and the ONS noted that deaths due to cancer and renal failure in hospitals have decreased.
The number that occurred at home and elsewhere has risen, which “could indicate that people who are very ill with these conditions are remaining at home when previously they may have been admitted to hospital or a hospice for near end-of-life care”.
Graphs showing number of deaths recorded in each region of England and Wales
Figures released by the ONS showed 52,000 in England had the virus at any one time in during the last two weeks of May.
That figure is down from 133,000 in the last round of figures.
The coronavirus death toll in the UK is at least 39,904 with more than 282,000 confirmed cases.
Nuffield Trust director of research John Appleby said: “While a number of these early excess deaths are likely to be undiagnosed Covid-19 cases, it is possible that some will be people in need of urgent medical care but have not sought it.
“This could be because of fear of infection, not wanting to burden NHS services and staff, or uncertainty caused by the huge shakeup in the way we have accessed health and care services over the last few months.”
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