Deaths at home from Alzheimer's and heart disease soar amid coronavirus pandemic

Henry Bodkin
·4 min read
A 90-year-old old man is seen backview, seated in front of a television, alone. He may be a resident of a care home. - Getty Images/Getty Images
A 90-year-old old man is seen backview, seated in front of a television, alone. He may be a resident of a care home. - Getty Images/Getty Images
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One hundred extra deaths at home a day are occurring from illnesses such as heart disease and Alzheimer's because of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures have revealed.

Experts have warned that people could be dying avoidably or without proper end-of-life care because they cannot access NHS services or feel discouraged from trying.

Overall, the number of deaths in private homes in England between December 28 and September 11 was 108,842, up 25,472 on the five-year average, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). 

These figures included huge increases in people dying at home with dementia and Alzheimer's – 79 per cent – and heart disease, at 26 per cent. Deaths from cerebral palsy, heart rhythm problems, diabetes and Parkinson's disease also increased by more than 70 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of people dying in hospital since the start of the pandemic is below the five-year average.

The new ONS data came to light after The Telegraph published an analysis of 200 health conditions which has seen hospital admissions plummet by up to 90 per cent.

The founder of #CatchUpWithCancer Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist, said: "Today's figures are yet more damning evidence of the Government's failure to tackle the treatment backlog. While the figures cover multiple health conditions, nowhere is this worse than in cancer. This is the worst cancer crisis I have seen in my 30-year career.

"Frontline staff are amazing and going above and beyond, but patients fear the toxic combination of treatment delays and dying in isolation.

"It will never be enough to just get service levels back to pre-Covid levels – we need a super-boost to services like advanced radiotherapy to clear the huge patient backlog. Otherwise, thousands of patients will die at home without access to the health service and the care they need."

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, the chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University, said: "Usually around 300 people die each day in their homes in England and Wales – the latest ONS analysis confirms that even after the peak of the epidemic this has stayed at around 400 a day and shows no sign of declining. That's one-third extra, very few of which are from Covid. 

"Non-Covid deaths in hospital have correspondingly declined, suggesting most of these deaths would normally have occurred in hospital, and people have either been reluctant to go, discouraged from attending, or the services have been disrupted.

Percentage difference and excess deaths compared with the five-year average
Percentage difference and excess deaths compared with the five-year average

"It is unclear how many of these lives could have been extended had they gone to hospital, for example among the 450 extra deaths from cardiac arrhythmias. Crucially, the ONS data cannot tell us about the quality of these deaths, particularly in terms of the end-of-life care provided to the patients and the support for their families."

Deaths of men at home from heart disease rose 26 per cent in England, compared with the five-year-average (1,705 additional deaths), with fewer dying in hospital. Deaths from prostate cancer saw the biggest percentage change from the five-year average, a 53 per cent increase – 801 additional deaths. Deaths from bowel cancer rose 46 per cent. 

In Wales, deaths in private homes for males from heart disease were up 23 per cent on the five-year average, prostate cancer deaths increased 75 per cent and bowel cancer deaths were up 52 per cent.

For women, the leading cause of death was heart disease, accounting for 10.5 per cent of all deaths in private homes.

Deaths in private homes of women from dementia and Alzheimer's increased by 75 per cent in England compared with the five-year average (1,335 additional deaths). Deaths from breast cancer were up 47 per cent. 

Sarah Caul, the head of mortality at the ONS, said: "While deaths in hospitals and care homes have dropped below the five-year average since the initial peak of the coronavirus pandemic, we've consistently seen deaths in private homes remain well above the five-year average.

"We've seen an overall increase of deaths as well as a redistribution of various causes of death. For instance, while deaths of heart disease are below average in hospital, it has been above average at home.

"It's a similar picture when looking at prostate cancer for males and dementia and Alzheimer's disease for females. Unlike the high numbers of deaths involving Covid-19 in hospitals and care homes, the majority of deaths in private homes are unrelated to Covid-19."