In the last few weeks, the COVID-19 related issues concerning care homes have become increasingly more apparent and a light has been shone on the pressures homes have faced. There has been suggestion that care providers have somewhat been missed by the Government, in respect of PPE, testing of staff and residents, or those returning from hospital. Sadly, since the beginning of April, the number of COVID-19 related deaths which took place in homes among residents overtook the number of care home resident deaths within hospitals. Many have suggested the main factor in respect of this has been the lack of testing of those with COVID-19 symptoms, when they have been returning to their care homes, having been receiving treatment externally.
New figures have now shown that care homes have also been suffering with a dramatic increase in deaths unrelated to COVID-19. Data from The Office for National Statistics confirmed that the total number of deaths of care home residents has increased by 23,136 for the period of 28 December 2019 to 1 May 2020, when compared with figures from 2018/2019. Of this number, only 12,526 have been linked to Coronavirus, meaning there has been a spike of 10,610 non-Covid related care home resident deaths. Similarly, The Office for National Statistics has stated that since the start of the pandemic, between 2 March and 1 May, the total of care home residents’ deaths was 45,899, with only 27.3% of these being related to COVID-19.
Running parallel to this, it seems there has also been an increase in deaths of people receiving domiciliary care within their own homes in England. The CQC has now confirmed that there have been a total of 3,161 deaths of recipients of domiciliary care between 10 April 2020 and 8 May 2020. When compared to the three year average of 1,171 deaths for the same period, it evidences an increase of 1,990 deaths for 2020, equating to a 170% rise. When looking more deeply at these figures, they suggest that only 593 of the 3,161 deaths involved Coronavirus.
With deaths of those receiving care, both in care homes and within their own homes, increasing generally without involvement of Coronavirus, a better understanding of the reasons behind this increase is needed.
Whilst the cause of such deaths requires a full and thorough investigation, it is possible that the pressures on care homes and those providing domiciliary care may be a factor. Like many other services on the frontline of this pandemic, care providers in the main have found themselves stretched, with staffing levels reduced, through staff being in isolation, shielding or unwell themselves. Care providers have had a number of additional pressures to contend with, such as sourcing suitable and sufficient PPE and ensuring they are working to Government guidelines to minimise the risk of infection, no doubt taking more time and resources than normal. However, with the release of this data showing the spike in deaths of those being cared for, which are unrelated to Covid-19, the question in the coming weeks and months will be whether care homes and domiciliary care providers have done enough to avoid claims.
Already, we have seen complaints arising from missing visits from carers in the wake of this pandemic. With the increase in non-COVID-19 related deaths, it may be the case that we also see an increase in neglect claims stemming from care providers not providing, or being unable to provide, their usual standard of care due to COVID-19. In these circumstances it would have be evidenced that the reduced level of care, in whatever form that may take, directly led to or contributed towards the death of the individual involved.
The full effect of COVID-19 on care homes and the domiciliary sector, in respect of potential litigation remains to be seen, however these new figures make clear that Covid-19’s impact extends beyond those directly infected with the virus.
Written by Emily Pilsbury at BLM