The scale of the catastrophe in care homes was laid bare today by official figures revealing that more than 12,500 elderly residents died with coronavirus.

A quarter of deaths in the beleaguered care sector were confirmed to be from Covid-19, the Office for National Statistics found, but experts said the true number of “excess deaths” where the disease went undiagnosed could be many thousands higher.

The figures raised fresh pressure on the Government to improve the safety of elderly people by boosting testing, cracking down on infection and reducing the number of homes reliant on agency staff who can pass the virus between settings.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was expected to be quizzed about allegations by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer that the Government mishandled the early stages of the outbreak by allowing infected hospital patients to be discharged into care homes.

Today’s data from the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales covered only cases where Covid-19 was confirmed by doctors on death certificates.

There were 45,899 deaths of care-home residents altogether between March 2 and May 1, of which 12,526 (27 per cent) were deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, whether as the underlying cause or not.

Of the Covid-related deaths, 9,039 occurred within a care home, while a further 3,444 occurred within a hospital. Of all hospital deaths involving Covid-19 during this period, 14.6 per cent were accounted for by care-home residents.

Covid-19 was the biggest cause of death for male residents, accounting for three in 10. Among elderly women in care homes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease came slightly higher.

The highest number of deaths involving Covid-19 in care-home residents was in the South East, with 2,109 deaths.

However, London had the highest proportion, accounting for 25.7 per cent of deaths in care-home residents, with a total of 1,654, and the city’s highest daily number recorded of 77 on April 8. The South West had the lowest proportion, at 12.9 per cent.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis denied that the Government had given bad advice to care homes during early March, saying it was “clear”.

Responding to allegations made by Sir Keir that homes were told there was little risk up to March 12, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “First of all I think it was disappointing to see Keir sort of quoting things out of context at PMQs and playing a bit of politics at a stage where I think people just want to see us focused on looking after people’s healthcare.” He added: “We had clear guidance that we were giving to care homes at that point in time at that early stage in March we had very, very low levels of death and spread of the virus and we were giving guidance to care homes around isolation for those patients who required it in terms of having symptoms from the virus.”

Ministers are planning to rush new antibody tests to care home staff. But despite promises that all care home residents can now be tested for the virus, homes have told the Standard they have received just a handful of the number of test kits they requested.

Liz Kendall, shadow social care minister, said the figures were “horrific”.

She added: “The Government has been too slow to get to grips with this problem.”