UK coronavirus victims have lain undetected at home for two weeks
Campaigners said the deaths highlighted the risks being run by people avoiding hospitals through fear of coronavirus. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
People have died at home alone of Covid-19 during the pandemic and not been found for up to two weeks, doctors who have investigated such deaths have said.
They have only been discovered after a relative, friend or neighbour raised the alarm and have in many cases gone undetected for so long that their body has started to decompose.
Campaigners for the elderly said the phenomenon highlighted the vulnerability of isolated older people living on their own with little family support and the risks being run by the large numbers of patients who have avoided hospitals and GP surgeries in recent months through fear of coronavirus.
“People have lain undiscovered during the pandemic for seven to 14 days,” said Dr Mike Osborn, a senior pathologist in London and the chair of the death investigation committee at the Royal College of Pathologists.
“I’ve seen plenty of such cases like this, where bodies are decomposed, in the Covid outbreak and also done postmortems in ‘query Covid’ cases [where the disease was suspected].”
The decomposition makes identifying the exact cause of death difficult, Osborne stressed. However, despite this, he was able to establish that some such deaths were as a result of Covid-19.
Doctors believe that several dozen such cases occurred in London during March, April and May.
During the pandemic doctors have certified the deaths of 700 people who lived at home in London, with or without relatives. Medics involved in ascertaining the cause of these deaths say that in many cases they have either confirmed coronavirus as the cause or judged that, combined with underlying poor health, it was likely to have contributed or resulted in the person’s death
“We always feared that a number of older people would be found dead alone at home, either victims of the virus or of something else, and it is extremely sad to find that this is indeed the case,” said Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK.
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