More than 1,000 people could have died from coronavirus in care homes across the UK, without being counted in the official death toll.
This week, the Office for National statistics revealed for the first time that 20 people had died in care homes across England and Wales in the week up to March 27 of the illness.
However, over 200 people have have been reported to have died in care homes by two different providers in the UK so far.
But Care England, the industry body, estimated that the true death toll is likely to be closer to 1,000.
Now, experts are warning that the difference in figures suggests that ministers may be underestimating the true impact of the pandemic on the elderly and most frail.
Burlington Court Care Home in Glasgow where 16 residents have died from coronavirus
Castleroy Residential home in Luton is believed to have had 15 deaths from coronavirus
The daily death toll reported by the government only relates to deaths in NHS England hospitals.
Statistics for deaths in care homes in England and Wales were published by the ONS for the first time this week.
However, the current figures are 12 days behind the daily hospital death rate and rely only on registered death certificates, which take an average of five days to process.
This means there is a lag of 17 days between deaths and their announcement, leading to fears the care home death toll could be far higher.
And the Alzheimer’s Society fears hundreds of thousand of people with dementia may be being ‘abandoned’ in care homes.
Care workers across the country are also saying they still lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing to properly deal with the virus.
The Alzheimer’s Society and other care industry leaders believe that the virus is now present in homes that care for around 400,000 people in the UK.
On Tuesday, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that just over nine per cent of care homes had the virus.
Nine Covid-19 related deaths have been reported at Tranent Care Home in East Lothian
Hawthorn Green Care Home in Stepney, where seven residents are reported to have died with suspected coronavirus
It comes as the UK recorded another 881 deaths on Thursday – although in a small relief numbers fell back from the high of almost 1,000 declared the day before.
Thursday’s deaths took Britain’s official death toll total to 7,978 as its coronavirus crisis rumbles on and 4,344 more positive tests pushed the number of patients, past and present, to 65,077.
The grim tally is considerably smaller than the devastating 938 announced on Wednesday but still represents the second biggest surge since the epidemic began almost six weeks ago.
Trade union Unison has sent a dossier of hundreds of carers’ complaints about a lack of PPE to ministers, including one report of a carer wearing a bag over their face in the absence of a mask.
Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences in Oxford, told the Guardian: ‘The worry is that we discover in six months that the numbers are way larger because no one was counting what was happening in care home.’
Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care UK, which represents the largest care providers, said: ‘We are seeing underreporting of the number of deaths.
‘Deaths might not be in the thousands yet, but it is coming up to that level.’
He called on the government to be more accurate with care home date.
MHA, the UK’s largest charitable care home provider, revealed that 70 per cent of patients in one of its Yorkshire care homes for dementia sufferers are suspected of having coronavirus.
In another Yorkshire home, 13 people have died, while 11 died in Northamptonshire.
In Luton, one care home said 15 patients had died during the crisis, while three homes in Scotland announced 30 deaths between them.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are determined to give the social care sector the support it needs to respond to coronavirus and continue to work closely with Public Health England to monitor the impact on cares homes.
‘The government has announced £2.9bn to help local authorities respond to pressures in key services, such as adult social care, and enhance the NHS discharge service, allowing patients to return home safely. We have published extensive guidance for care homes on admitting and caring for people during the outbreak, and we are reinstating the professional registration of 8,000 former social workers to fill vital roles in the community.
‘We have also delivered 7.8m pieces of PPE to more than 26,000 care settings across the country and are rapidly working to extend testing to social care workers.’