A NATIONAL care champion suspects figures on Covid-19 deaths released by a watchdog “mask the true number of fatalities”.

Care Forum Wales chair Mario Kreft spoke after the Welsh Government finally published figures from Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) showing deaths reported to it within Welsh care settings.

Between March 1 and May 8 this year, 2,165 people died in Welsh care settings, compared to 1,093 for the same period last year – a rise of 98%.

The statistics, which detailed deaths reported by CIW to Welsh Government, showed 504 care home residents died with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 – 23% of all deaths.

Mr Kreft said: “The figures we’ve seen from Care Inspectorate Wales are very sobering and a stark warning that we need a national action plan.

“I also suspect the statistics mask the true number of fatalities from Covid-19 which in reality are likely to be far higher. They are almost certainly an underestimate.”

A statement within the data release said it was reliant on providers “being able to provide an indication that they are Covid-19 related deaths”.

It added: “The data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which includes all deaths where Covid-19 was a factor according to the death certificate, report higher numbers of deaths related to Covid-19 in care homes in Wales.”

Welsh Government said it would work with CIW and the ONS to “explore the quality of these data.”

The data lists deaths of those being cared for and where they died, such as in a care home, hospital, their own home or in an ambulance.

It revealed 69% of all Covid-19 related deaths occurred in care homes and 27% in hospitals. Two people died in ambulances.

The first suspected coronavirus death was notified to CIW on March 19.

Of the 504 deaths notified to CIW, 173 were reported as confirmed Covid-19 and 331 suspected as having the novel coronavirus strain.

Welsh Government has resisted calls to test all care home residents and staff, in line with England, but is testing in homes with 50 residents or more.

Mr Kreft said: “Care homes have not been protected and residents and staff have been treated like collateral damage.

“There is no silver bullet to overcoming this crisis but we have stressed all along that a proper testing regime was an essential element and, despite promises to the contrary, that regime is still not properly in place.

“Even when we were informed residents with suspected Covid-19 were not going to be admitted to hospital, care homes were still not issued with proper PPE and people discharged from hospitals into care homes were not tested.

“Quite frankly, it was a disaster waiting to happen and we’re not being wise after the event because we have been saying this all along.”

He added “chronic underfunding” of the care sector over the past 25 years meant a “national action plan” was needed to ensure care homes could meet future challenges.