LONDON: More than 12,500 deaths of care home residents in Britain were linked to the coronavirus, according to figures released Friday, heaping further pressure on the government over its handling of the pandemic.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 12,526 care home residents in England and Wales had died from the virus in March and April, with nearly three-quarters occurring within homes and the rest in hospitals.
However, the ONS suggested the actual death toll of care home residents could be far higher, noting it had recorded 23,136 more fatalities in the first four months of the year than in the same period in 2019.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had said Thursday that “the vast majority” of care homes had seen no virus cases and that the rate of deaths in them was less than in neighbouring European countries.
Britain has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, according to official data, although the government has argued that global comparisons are fraught given different countries´ reporting methods.
The ONS and regional UK health bodies reported earlier this week they had registered 36,473 deaths from or mentioning the virus up until May 1 — a tally second only to the United States.
The figures also indicated that Britain´s excess mortality, which experts have said is the truest indicator of the virus´ impact, was close to 50,000.
Department of Health figures say there have been 33,614 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus.
Ministers and scientific advisers say a true picture of the extent of the outbreak will not emerge for months.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson´s government has been criticised for its response to the outbreak, particularly in relation to care homes, with accusations they have been abandoned during the pandemic.
Opposition parties and whistleblowers in the care sector have said hospitals allowed patients to be discharged from hospital into homes without adequate testing to determine if they had the virus.
There has been persistent criticism carers were not given adequate personal protective equipment and that the sector was ill-prepared for the pandemic.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer drew attention to the issue on Wednesday, noting guidance from health officials which remained in place until mid-March said it was “very unlikely” care homes would be impacted by the virus.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is examining if human rights laws were breached by hospitals discharging older patients into care homes.
The government has insisted it has adequately supported the sector throughout the crisis, though Johnson admitted Tuesday there was “more to do”.