Borough’s care home death toll could be double official figure

The true death toll in Knowsley’s care homes could be double the official figure, a council report has suggested.

The latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) record 35 deaths from coronavirus in Knowsley care homes since the pandemic began.

But a report prepared for a Knowsley Council scrutiny committee puts the real death toll at 74, adding that the borough’s care homes have seen 234 cases of COVID-19 and more than 20 care homes have had to close to new admissions for a period due to virus outbreaks.

The major discrepancy between the death tolls is likely to be caused by differences in how the ONS and the council record deaths but it raises the possibility that the pandemic’s true impact on Merseyside’s care homes is much worse than previously reported.

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The ONS records its figures according to where a person died, meaning if a care home resident was transferred to hospital and died there, they would be classed as a hospital death.

The council, on the other hand, has included all care home residents in its figures, even if they died in hospital.

A spokesperson for Knowsley Council said: “There are a range of factors and calculation methods which could contribute to what look like discrepancies.

“The figures we record relate to residents in Knowsley care homes who have died from coronavirus regardless of where that death occurred or whether or not they are a Knowsley resident or previously resided out of borough.”

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However, Sarah Scobie, of health think tank The Nuffield Trust, said she would be “surprised” if transfers of care home residents to hospital accounted for such a large discrepancy.

She suggested that problems with the testing regime could also have played a part, saying: “It might not always be clear to the person writing the death certificate what the causes are, particularly when there isn’t testing of patients or where the testing isn’t 100%.

“You can test negative but still have coronavirus.”

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of industry body Care England, agreed that a lack of testing could be partly to blame for underreporting.

He said: “At the onset of the pandemic care homes felt abandoned by the NHS and residents were not given access to healthcare that they needed for COVID-19 and other illnesses.

“What is crystal clear is the need for routine testing; testing should not be seen as a one off but instead needs to be done as regularly as possible in order that we can keep this dreadful pandemic under control”.

The ONS published some figures last month that looked at deaths of care home residents from coronavirus, regardless of their actual place of death.

Although those figures only covered up to the beginning of May, they suggested that care home deaths on Merseyside as a whole were already 33% higher than the official number.