As part of a three-month investigation into the Government’s handling of the crisis during the lockdown weeks, we have spoken to more than 50 witnesses, including doctors, paramedics, bereaved families, charities, care home workers, politicians and advisers to the government. Our inquiries have unearthed new documents and previously unpublished hospital data. Together, they show what happened while most of the country stayed at home.
There were 59,000 extra deaths in England and Wales compared with previous years during the first six months of the pandemic. This consisted of 26,000 excess fatalities in care homes and another 25,000 in people’s own homes.
Surprisingly, only 8,000 of those excess deaths were in hospital, even though 30,000 people died from the virus on the wards. This shows that many deaths that would normally have taken place in hospital had been displaced to people’s homes and the care homes.
This huge increase of deaths outside hospitals was a mixture of coronavirus cases – many of whom were never tested – and people who were not given treatment for other conditions that they would have had access to in normal times. Ambulance and admission teams were told to be more selective about who should be taken into hospital, with specific instructions to exclude many elderly people. GPs were asked to identify frail patients who were to be left at home even if they were seriously ill with the virus.
In some regions, care home residents dying of COVID-19 were denied access to hospitals even though their families believed their lives could have been saved.
The sheer scale of the resulting body count that piled up in the nation’s homes meant special body retrieval teams had to be formed by police and fire brigade to transfer corpses from houses to mortuaries. Some are said to have run out of body bags.
NHS data obtained by Insight shows that access to potentially life-saving intensive care was not made available to the vast majority of people who died with the virus. Only one in six COVID-19 patients who lost their lives in hospital during the first wave had been given intensive care. This suggests that of the 47,000 people who died of the virus inside and outside hospitals, just an estimated 5,000 – one in nine – received the highest critical care, despite the government claiming that intensive care capacity was never breached.