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NEWS FLASH: Home care deaths climb 50% during pandemic

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Deaths of disabled and older adults receiving care at home have more than doubled in many council areas across England, according to data from the Care Quality Commission.

The data, obtained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, shows that more than 25,000 people died in the past year while receiving home care in England, up 50% on 2019, and almost 3,000 in Scotland, a rise of 70%.

Deaths more than doubled in 38 council areas when compared to 2019, and in ten local authority areas recorded deaths tripled.

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Although recorded deaths have climbed, relatively few people in home care have died of coronavirus. Across England, the data suggests only 8.7% were Covid-19 related, though that rose to 20% in some areas.

The Bureau’s reporting has found that a lack of PPE, slow vaccination take-up among some care workers, and Westminster’s failure to prioritise funding for home care may all have contributed to the sharp rise in deaths.

Another reason for the increase could be that providers were reporting more deaths to the CQC “on a precautionary basis” during the pandemic, even when they were not strictly required to do so, the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) told the Bureau.

By law, deaths have to be reported to the CQC by a care provider if a person died as a result of their care or if a care worker was in their home at the time. But that fails to take account of those who die when only family are present, or the millions of people who are solely cared for by unpaid family members and friends.

The government’s “Protect the NHS” message may have also caused people to avoid hospital treatment, and could have meant families kept relatives at home.

“Official data also show that whilst excess deaths at home were higher during the pandemic, those in hospices decreased … We believe it likely that during the pandemic, more people chose to die at home, in familiar surroundings with the right care and support, than in hospices or hospitals than in previous years,” UKHCA added.

The data shows very wide regional differences in deaths across England. In Kent, deaths of adults receiving home care climbed 56.6% to 1,136 during the pandemic, with 85 deaths related to COVID-19.

Meanwhile in Essex, deaths rose 8.3% to 701 during the same period.

This appears to reflect the fragmented, complex home care system, where care can be delivered through one of almost 19,000 providers.

Commenting on the figures, Fasilet Hadi, head of policy Disability Rights UK, said they were “truly shocking”.

“It is very important that the figures are further analysed,” he added. “Disabled and older people receiving care at home can often be very isolated and forgotten by the world around them. The everyday challenges they face are largely invisible and it is time we put a spotlight on their experiences during the pandemic,” he added.

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke