Four weeks after Prime Minister Boris Johnson locked the UK down, the frail residents of the country’s 11,300 care homes have emerged as the hidden victims of an overwhelmed, underprepared system plagued by shifting guidelines that some experts fear have had lethal consequences. Although the homes were quick to warn authorities about a shortage of protective gear and testing, they say their concerns were ignored as the virus began to spread.

“It was a mistake not to prioritise care homes from the start,” said Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, a charity which represents the large care home chains. “We knew the 430,000 people in care homes included some of the most vulnerable people.”

Nearly 11,000 more people than normal have died in UK care homes since the start of the outbreak, analysis by the Financial Times suggests, a far larger number than the latest official estimate of 1,043 Covid-related deaths in England and Wales.

The UK is not the only country where the virus has torn through retirement homes, where many residents already suffer from long-term health conditions, and shared dining tables and living rooms can make a mockery of social distancing rules. Inquiries into care home deaths have already begun in countries including the US, Canada, France, Italy and Spain, where residents were found abandoned or dead last month.

Up to half the coronavirus-related deaths in Europe are occurring in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday, adding that “deeply concerning” data pointed to “an unimaginable human tragedy”.

Covid-19 has laid bare underfunded care systems across the world. But as the scale of Britain’s elderly care catastrophe emerges, it is clear that the sector spent far too long simply struggling to be heard….

Inside UK care homes: why the system is failing its coronavirus test |