The Office for National Statistics said that 5,979 deaths in England until April 3 involved COVID-19, 15% more than the 5,186 deaths reported by the National Health Service for the same period.
On Monday, the government reported 11,329 deaths in the UK from people with the new coronavirus.
This total, updated daily, includes only those who died in hospitals. The highest figure, published weekly by the statistics office, includes deaths in all settings, including nursing homes, and cases where the coronavirus has been suspected but not tested.
The statistics bureau said that until April 3, just under 10% of deaths involving COVID-19 had occurred outside hospitals.
Nursing home operators and staff say the figure likely underestimates the true number of facilities that house some of the country’s oldest and most vulnerable people.
The head of one of Britain’s largest retirement home operators said on Tuesday that the number of coronavirus cases and deaths among the elderly is much higher than what has been officially announced.
The government says that COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported in one in eight nursing homes in the UK.
But David Behan, president of domestic operator HC-One, said cases of the new coronavirus had been reported in 232 company homes – two-thirds of the total. He said that 311 residents and one staff member died with COVID-19 confirmed or suspected.
“The deaths from COVID-19 are representative of about … just under a third of all the deaths we have experienced in the past three weeks,” he told the BBC.
Nursing homes across the country say they have struggled to obtain adequate protective equipment for staff and that they are experiencing staff shortages as many workers fall ill or have to isolate themselves.
Ros Altmann, a former government minister campaigning for the elderly, said that frail seniors are neglected in the pandemic.
“We must not forget that the mark of a civilized society must reflect the way it treats its most vulnerable and older citizens,” she said.
“We must not forget the oldest people in our population – the average age of people in our care homes is 85 years – their lives are also precious and they need treatment, equipment and care that we expect from anyone in society as well. “
Jill Lawless and Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press