THE number of Covid-19 deaths in Hampshire care homes continues to rise, with the county continuing to have the highest number of deaths.

According to the latest data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) a total of 45 deaths involving coronavirus occurred in care homes across the county between May 9 and May 15.

The figures from private and council run care homes were reported by Hampshire County Council to the Care Quality Commission.

Hampshire continues to have the highest number of deaths linked to Covid-19 in the country with 324, and the second highest number found in Surrey where there were 242.

Care home deaths linked to Covid-19 also continued to rise nationally with the total now 9,762 in England between April 10 and May 15, with 1,369 occurring in the last week.

But the increasing number of deaths has caused UNISON, the public service union, to hit out claiming that the deaths expose a social care system ‘unfit for purpose’.

UNISON South East regional secretary Steve Torrance said: “This is a shocking price being paid by elderly and vulnerable people whose families believed they were being kept safe, and frankly heroic care staff who are being let down by a failing system.

“These deaths show the government’s failure to support those in society who are most in need of care.

“Staff looking after care home residents have in many ways been abandoned. They’ve struggled for months with protective equipment shortages, testing delays and inadequate guidance on how to keep themselves and their families safe.

“They are also at a much higher risk as a result of their vital work of contracting and dying from the disease.

“The Covid-19 crisis has exposed a social care system that’s simply unfit for purpose. A complete overhaul is needed once the pandemic passes to ensure no one is left unprotected again.”

But Hampshire County Council has argued that the number of deaths recorded as involving Covid-19 are not related to the quality of care given in homes around the county.

Councillor Liz Fairhurst, executive member for adult social care and health told the Chronicle: “The number of deaths recorded as Covid-19 related is not about the quality of care provided in our county, but more about the fact that we are one of the largest local authority areas in England, with a correspondingly large ageing population, and over 13,000 care home beds.

“Every death is a cause for sadness and we continue to pull out all the stops to support the staff and residents in our own homes, as well as the wider sector. This includes working at pace on the delivery of the Government’s plans for the roll out of universal testing across all care homes in the county – this will help with the earlier identification and treatment of those with the virus – benefitting all who live or work in a residential or nursing home setting in Hampshire.”

Responding to the ONS figures a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson responded added: “Every death from this virus is a tragedy and our deepest sympathies go out to the families who have sadly lost relatives.

“Supporting the social care sector throughout this pandemic is a priority. We are working around the clock to give the social care sector the equipment and support they need.

“We are ensuring millions of items of PPE are available to care workers, using our increased testing capacity to test care home residents and staff regardless of symptoms and introducing our new £600m Infection Control Fund to help prevent the spread in care homes.’’

Outside of care homes the number of coronavirus deaths across Hampshire stood at 553 as the Chronicle went to print, according to NHS figures.