Care home charity warns UK deaths could be over 7,000

London (AFP) –


The number of people killed by the coronavirus in Britain's care homes could be as high as 7,500 -- five times the official estimate, according to a charity.

The comments came as the country's overall official toll soared by 888 on Saturday to 15,464.

Care England, Britain's largest representative body for care homes, said that estimates based on some of the death rates since April 1 suggested up to 7,500 people may have died of the virus.

"Without testing, it is very difficult to give an absolute figure," Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, told The Daily Telegraph.

"However, if we look at some of the death rates since April 1 and compare them with previous years' rates, we estimate a figure of about 7,500 people may have died as a result of COVID-19."

The figure is more than five times higher than the estimate of 1,400 suggested by the government earlier this week.

It is also far in excess of the 217 care home deaths recorded by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) up to April 3, the most recent date for which official data is available.

Britain's official coronavirus toll only includes deaths recorded in hospitals, which can take some days to register fatalities.

- 'Heartbreaking' -

The ONS said this week that its data suggested that deaths in hospital accounted for around 85 percent of all coronavirus fatalities in the country.

This figure was calculated by comparing overall excess deaths in the country to the official coronavirus toll.

But the Care England estimate would mean that deaths in hospital account for a far lower proportion of the true total than the ONS data suggested.

"This is a shocking and utterly heartbreaking estimate that will send a chill down the spine of anyone with a loved one living in a care home," said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at the Age UK charity.

Care England did not publish the data underlying its estimate, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament's health and social care committee on Friday that figures would be published "very shortly".

Bosses of care homes, the vast majority of which are privately run in Britain, have accused the government of a "shambolic" response to the sector's crisis, particularly over "haphazard" deliveries of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Concern over PPE is not restricted to care homes, with frontline staff in some of Britain's state-run hospitals warning they could run out this weekend.

A leaked Public Health England document revealed health workers are being asked to reuse protective gowns and masks as a "last resort".

- Charity veteran honoured -

Minister Robert Jenrick admitted in Saturday's press briefing that "supply in some areas, particularly gowns and certain types of masks and aprons, is in short supply" and that it "must be an extremely anxious time for people working on the front line.

"They should be assured that we are doing everything we can to correct this issue, and to get them the equipment that they need," he added.

Jenrick also announced that 99-year-old war veteran Tom Moore, who has provided much-needed light in the crisis by raising over £23 million for NHS charities, would be invited to open -- via videolink -- a new facility to treat patients.

"I know that having extra beds available for the sick, if needed will be reassuring to those workers, as it would have been to me when I was on the frontline," the former captain said.

And Buckingham Palace said on Saturday that Queen Elizabeth II will not celebrate her 94th birthday on Tuesday with a traditional gun salute due.

"There will be no gun salutes. Her Majesty was keen that no special measures were put in place to allow gun salutes as she did not feel it appropriate in the current circumstances," a palace official told AFP.