Did 62 more people contract COVID-19 in care homes, before dying in hospital?

CLAIM: Of the 353 COVID-19 deaths in hospitals in Northern Ireland, 62 people contracted the virus in a care home and were transferred to a hospital before dying.

CONCLUSION: UNSUBSTANTIATED. The death certificates of 62 people who died in hospital mention COVID-19 and give a normal residence address of a care home. However, there is no data to indicate where or when they contracted COVID-19.

The front page of Saturday’s Belfast Telegraph reports on NISRA’s latest figures about COVID-19 deaths.

“New figures have revealed that 62 more care home residents have died from Covid-19 than was previously known.

“Care home residents make up more than half of the 705 people in Northern Ireland who have died from COVID-19, the NI Statistics and Research Agency’s latest statistics show.”

The story goes on to make the claim:

“But they also revealed that of the 353 Covid-19 deaths in hospitals, 62 victims caught the virus in a care home and were transferred to hospital before dying.”

The claim is repeated in a Belfast Telegraph online article.

What do the statistics say?

Each Friday morning, the Northern Ireland Statistics Research Agency (NISRA) releases weekly statistics that analyse all deaths that have occurred up until the previous Friday that mention COVID-19 on the death certificate. FactCheckNI has published several articles about counting COVID-19 deaths and the different measures.

The agency has been breaking down figures by the place of death recorded on the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death, and grouping them by hospitals, care homes, hospices and other community settings. The deceased’s usual place of address is also recorded on their death certificate.

Friday 29 May’s report includes a new section that groups together COVID-19 deaths that occurred in care homes plus deaths that occurred elsewhere “but the place of usual residence of the deceased was recorded as a care home”.

NISRA found that “there have been 380 deaths of care home residents involving COVID-19 in the year to date to 22nd May 2020, which is 53.1% of all COVID-19 related deaths. Of the 380 deaths, 83.7% (318) occurred in a care home, with the remaining 62 occurring in hospital.”

Taken from NISRA’s Weekly Death Bulletin, 29 May 2020, p. 8.

NISRA did not comment on where or when the patients contracted COVID-19.

As NISRA only use the information on the death certificate, it does not have the clinical data or patient records that would allow it to know why or when a patient was transferred to hospital, or whether they had COVID-19 symptoms in the care home before being transferred to hospital.

Some patients may have transferred to hospital from a care home because they had severe COVID-19 symptoms that required medical attention. Some may have transferred to hospital before the outbreak of COVID-19 began. Others may have transferred with an existing complaint and contracted the virus while in hospital. So it cannot be determined how many people “caught the virus in a care home and were transferred to hospital before dying”.

Are these the full statistics for care home COVID-19 deaths?

While the statistics attempt to count the number of care home residents who have died from COVID-19, they may not include all care home residents who die in hospital if the care home is not recorded as their usual address.

In their weekly report, NISRA note that “the statistics will not capture those cases where a care home resident died in hospital or another location and the usual address recorded on their death certificate is not a care home”.

If a patient’s last known residential address (before being in a care home) was recorded as their usual address on the death certificate they will not be captured in this analysis.

Image: UK Death Certificate by Gannet77 used by license


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