The care home death toll from Covid-19 could be thousands higher than government figures have shown in England, according to reports.
In figures published last month, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said there were 39,017 Covid-related deaths in England’s care homes.
But it has been claimed the data excludes key dates when patients were discharged from hospitals without Covid tests.
Care home providers told The Telegraph the figure could be thousands higher than the official number because only people who died with Covid between April 10, 2020, and March 31 this year were included.
They say thousands of care home residents could have died in the days leading up to April 10, alleging that a government policy meant patients with Covid were being discharged from hospitals into care homes.
This was reportedly based on an ‘understanding’ that ‘certain elements were in place’.
A care home manager described the policy as “a death warrant”.
A spokesperson for the CQC told The Mirror when the data went out, they were clear this was not the total death toll in England’s care homes and stated the time frame from April 10 to March 31.
The CQC also said around a quarter of these deaths occurred in other care setting outside the care home itself.
They said they continue to release regular, updated figures.
Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the health and social care select committee, said: “One of the biggest tragedies last year was the discharging of untested patients into care homes.
“Both the NHS and its regulators need to explain why we were less stringent than countries like Germany that did not allow untested patients into care homes unless they were fully quarantined.”
A spokesman for the Care Quality Commission (CQC), told the Mirror: “On 2 April The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued guidance on Admission and care of residents in a care home during COVID-19.
“This guidance was developed, with input from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Public Health England and CQC.
“CQC’s objective in making amendments to the guidance was to ensure that care settings were involved in decisions about how to manage the care needs of their residents safely, while balancing this with the increased pressures on hospital capacity.
“In our view the original draft left providers with little power to challenge individual decisions if they felt their care setting was not adequately equipped to meet the needs of the person being admitted while keeping other residents safe.
“We felt it was imperative to be clear that providers should be the involved in decision making for each placement and we ensured that the original guidance as drafted by DHSC was amended to achieve this before putting our name to it.
“We also highlighted a need to involve social care trade associations and linked bodies, to ensure they were sighted and their views reflected.
“The final version of the guidance dated April 2 stated that people could only be discharged to care homes if certain criteria were in place: that information from the discharging hospital included the data and results of any Covid-19 test, the date and onset of the symptoms, that the care home had the ability to isolate symptomatic people, that care staff had adequate PPE.
“If these elements were not in place, we were clear with providers that they would be able to refuse an admission and we said that we would back registered managers refusing admissions if they weren’t satisfied they could deliver safe care.
“Some care home managers contacted us to ask whether we would support their decision not to admit a person with Covid-19 based on the absence of one of these elements and we have confirmed that we would do so.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every death from coronavirus is a tragedy and our deepest sympathies are with everyone who has lost loved ones.
“Throughout the pandemic we have done all we can to protect vulnerable people in adult social care.
“We have provided billions of pounds to support the sector including on infection and prevention control measures, free PPE, priority vaccinations and additional testing.
“As a result, 93 percent of residents eligible staff in care home settings have had two vaccine doses.”
The department’s first guidance was published in February 2020 and it’s understood it is under constant review.