Deaths at home in England and Wales up a third in 2020

Private homes were the only setting to record excess deaths in every month of 2020 since February.

A volunteer adds hearts to the Covid Memorial Wall in central London
A volunteer adds hearts to the Covid Memorial Wall in central London

Deaths in private homes in England and Wales rose by a third in 2020, with sharp increases in the number of deaths caused by heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, new figures show.

A total of 166,576 deaths from all causes in private homes were registered in 2020, compared with an average of 125,255 between 2015 and 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This means there were 41,321 extra deaths, or “excess deaths”, in homes during the year.

Deaths in private homes in England & Wales in 2020
(PA Graphics)

Covid-19 was responsible for only 3,221 of these excess deaths, or 8% of the total.

The majority of deaths due to Covid in 2020, where coronavirus was the main cause, occurred in hospitals and care homes, the ONS said.

By contrast, many deaths from other causes, such as breast cancer and prostate cancer, happened in private homes to people who, in a non-pandemic year, may have typically died elsewhere such as in hospital.

The figures show that deaths from diabetes in private homes were 60% higher in 2020 compared with the average for 2015-19, while those from rheumatic heart disease and Parkinson’s disease were both up 66%.

For dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, deaths were up 65%, with increases of 44% and 37% for prostate cancer and breast cancer respectively.

Deaths due to influenza and pneumonia in private homes were 8% below the five-year average.

Private homes were the only setting to record excess deaths in every month of 2020 since February.

While the peak in excess deaths in care homes during April 2020 was much higher than in private homes, deaths remained above average in private homes for the rest of the year, the ONS found.

Deaths other than in private homes in England fell below the five-year average during July and August 2020, while in Wales this happened in August and September.

Responding to the figures, Ruth Driscoll, head of policy and public affairs for England at charity Marie Curie, said: “The steep increase in deaths at home is worrying because the current funding model for supporting people at the end of life in the community is neither resilient nor sustainable in the long term.

“We are at a critical moment for end-of-life care and support services in the community, with demand set to increase sharply as our population ages, and much greater resourcing needed to ensure future demand can be met.

“The reality for many of the deaths which have occurred in homes in the past year has been bleak. We know that people have been dying without access to pain relief or the urgent care they needed, and carers have been left unsupported.

“Three-quarters of bereaved carers told us their loved one didn’t get all the care they needed at home before they died, and they were left to carry the emotional and physical burdens of caring for a loved one.”

The total number of deaths registered in England and Wales in 2020 was 607,922.

This was 14.3% above the average for the previous five years, with 75,845 excess deaths.

Covid-19 was responsible for 97% of these excess deaths, the ONS said.

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