More than 40,000 ‘excess deaths’ were recorded in private homes last year but fewer than one in ten were caused by coronavirus, official figures revealed today.
Office for National Statistics data showed 166,000 people died at home in England and Wales in 2020, compared to a yearly average of 125,000.
Covid was behind just eight per cent of the deaths – 3,221 in total. But the virus was responsible for more than 74,000 fatalities in all settings over the course of the year, the majority of them happening in hospitals.
Statisticians claimed many of the home deaths were among people who would normally die in hospital, such as prostate and breast cancer patients. Thousands were turfed out of NHS wards during the pandemic to make room for virus patients, while many others were reluctant to go to hospital out of fear of catching Covid.
Experts say it’s not clear whether excess home deaths are all a bad thing – many terminally ill people may choose to die at home rather than in hospital, but others may have missed out on pain relief or quality end-of-life care.
Excess deaths are considered the most accurate way of measuring the impact of the Covid pandemic because they include people who have died with the virus without testing positive, as well as those who die of other causes as an indirect result of the outbreak.
ONS data showed 14 per cent more deaths from all causes were recorded in 2020 than average – the equivalent of 76,000 people. Covid was blamed for around 97 per cent of those excess fatalities.
NEARLY HALF OF OVER-50s HAVE HAD BOTH DOSES OF COVID JAB
Almost half of all over-50s in England have now been fully vaccinated against coronavirus and as many as two-thirds have been covered in parts of the country leading the way, the latest official figures show.
About 10.5million people in the age group had received both vaccine doses across England by May 2 — a rate of 47 per cent — according to NHS statistics.
But, as has been the case throughout the rollout, analysis by MailOnline shows uptake has varied.
Some 93 of England’s 315 local authorities have already seen more than half of their over-50 populations receive a top-up shot but in 26 areas it is fewer than four in 10 and in two authorities the rate is below 30 per cent.
Eastbourne in Sussex had the highest vaccination rate, dishing out second doses to 64 per cent of people in the age group.
After Eastbourne, the highest rates were seen in the Isles of Scilly (63.0 per cent), Wyre (61.2 per cent), Mid Suffolk (57.9 per cent), East Suffolk (57.8 per cent) and Bassetlaw (57.2 per cent).
Rates were lowest in London, where ministers are worries that hesitancy is stopping people come forward for a jab when they are invited. Just 22,637 out of 88,187 over 50s in Newham, south London, have had their second dose — an uptake rate of just 25.7 per cent.
Heart disease was the leading cause of death in the home last year after 25,000 deaths were recorded, 3,684 more than in the previous year.
It was followed by lung cancer which caused 12,574 fatalities in the home, or 2,630 more than the 9,944 registered in the previous year.
Dementia was blamed for 9,990 fatalities at home, up from the 6,073 recorded the year before.
ONS figures showed deaths in private homes had risen by a third compared to the average from the previous five years.
There were 166,576 deaths in 2020, compared with an average of 125,255 between 2015 and 2019.
Hospital deaths from all causes rose by four per cent or 10,000 after 158,001 were registered compared to the 247,945 expected for the time of year.
And deaths in care homes jumped by 21 per cent or 24,895 after 141,390 were recorded compared to the 116,495 expected according to the five-year average.
The ONS report said: ‘The majority of deaths due to Covid-19 (where the coronavirus was the main cause) occurred in hospitals and care homes, while many deaths from other causes, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer, happened in private homes.
‘Our analysis shows that many of these deaths at home were people who, in a non-pandemic year, may have typically died elsewhere such as in hospital.’
Covid was the leading cause of death in 2020, followed by dementia and heart disease, the figures showed.
Over-85s were also more likely to die in care homes than hospitals for the first time.
Dr Veena Raleigh, from healthcare think-tank The King’s Fund, said: ‘This “displacement” of many deaths from hospital to home raises questions about whether Covid impaired people’s ability to choose where to spend their final days.
‘Given this enormous death toll, and the grossly disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our poorest communities and ethnic minority groups, a public inquiry into how the pandemic was handled is urgently needed.
‘While the NHS is delivering an admirable vaccination campaign, the pandemic isn’t over yet – this year Covid-19 has already caused 57,000 deaths up to 23 April.’
The ONS report comes as Covid continues to fade away in Britain and the number of patients in hospital in England this week dropped below 1,000 for the first time since September.
A total of 976 patients were in hospital at 8am on May 6, according to figures from NHS England.
This is the first time the total has been below 1,000 since September 17 – nearly eight months ago – according to analysis by the PA news agency.
It is also down 97 per cent from a record 34,336 hospital patients on January 18.
During the first wave of the virus, patient numbers peaked at 18,974 on April 12 2020.
Both south-east and south-west England are reporting numbers down 99 per cent on their second-wave peak.
Eastern England has seen its number drop by 98 per cent, the Midlands by 97 per cent, while London, north-west England and the combined region of north-east England and Yorkshire have all seen drops of 96 per cent.
The steep drop in patients is fresh evidence of the combined impact of the lockdown and vaccines in helping reduce the number of Covid-19 infections that lead to hospital admission.
Recent research by the Office for National Statistics and Oxford University found that Covid-19 infections ‘fell significantly’ by 65 per cent after a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, while two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offered similar levels of protection as a previous Covid-19 infection.
Vaccination was also found to be just as effective in individuals over 75 years or with underlying health conditions, as it was in those under 75 years or without underlying conditions.
Meanwhile hospital admissions of patients with Covid-19 are back to levels last seen in early September with a total of 76 admissions reported for May 4. This was down 98 per cent from the peak on January 12.
Three regions – London, south-east England and south-west England – have seen admissions dip into single figures. London recorded just six admissions on May 4, compared with a second-wave peak of 977 on January 6.