Nearly 13,000 more people than expected have died in England and Wales since mid-March from causes other than coronavirus amid fears that a lack of medical care is responsible.
Data compiled by The Telegraph shows that there have been more than 23,000 excess deaths in care homes or at home, not linked to Covid-19, since March 13.
During that time, hospital deaths fell by more than 10,000 as many dying patients were sent back into the community to free up beds ahead of the pandemic building to a peak.
But even after allowing for the numbers who would ordinarily have died in hospital, some 12,818 deaths are left unaccounted for.
Statisticians at Oxford and Cambridge universities said the numbers were now sufficiently worrying for an inquiry to be launched into the cause.
There are fears that thousands of people have died at home or in care homes because they could not access medical treatment as resources were diverted to cope with the virus pandemic.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, the chairman of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge, said: “There’s a huge spike in non-Covid deaths at home very quickly into the epidemic, close to the time when hospitals started minimising the normal service that they were providing.
“A call went out to all hospitals to send as many patients as you possibly could out of hospitals, and it was the community’s responsibility to look after them.
“It is important to know how many might have been at least delayed if the normal healthcare had existed. This isn’t to attribute blame, but this isn’t going to be our last epidemic and we need to learn about the indirect impact of measures.
“It’s a vital issue to understand the consequences of the actions that we have taken.”
New figures show that there are now 46,383 deaths registered with Covid-19 across the whole of the UK, including suspected cases. But it is feared that the true death toll of the pandemic may be closer to 60,000 when excess deaths caused by the lockdown are factored in.
During the lockdown, urgent cancer referrals across England dropped by 62 per cent, while chemotherapy treatments have been running at just 70 per cent of their normal levels.
A&E attendance has plummeted in recent weeks, and there are also concerns that people have stayed away from hospitals despite suffering life-threatening heart attacks or strokes.
On April 25, Sir Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, was forced to launch a new drive to persuade the public to seek urgent care and treatment when it is needed.
Separate calculations by the University of Cambridge showed that, over the seven weeks up to May 15, there were 1,700 more deaths in homes than would be expected in that period, and 12,800 extra deaths in care homes.
Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said excess deaths at home were unlikely to be unrecorded coronavirus deaths.
“These people have been isolating, they have not been having visitors, so by now it’s hard to explain this as unrecognised Covid,” he said. “There are excesses for a number of reasons. One of them could be a lack of people presenting to healthcare with usual problems that are highly amenable to treatment.
“This is an urgent area for inquiry. Whether people are being discharged too early or whether they’re not presenting sufficiently, there are issues here because this number is significantly higher than what we’d normally expect in the home setting.”
Care homes have been particularly hard hit by the virus, with new figures showing that, in London, there have been 4.6 deaths per 100 care home beds – the highest in the country.
Meanwhile, new allegations have been made against the operator of the Home Farm care home on the Isle of Skye, where 10 residents have died from Covid-19 and the majority have been infected.
The Scottish care regulator has initiated court proceedings against HC-One, the owner of the home, while police are investigating three of the deaths.
The families of two residents who died after becoming infected told The Telegraph they first found out that the virus had taken hold at Home Farm when a staff member’s mother revealed in a Facebook post that her son had tested positive and was self-isolating.