More people have died at home in Bedford during the coronavirus pandemic than in the years before it, figures suggest.
End of life charity Marie Curie said many people across England and Wales avoided hospitals during the crisis because they wanted to protect the NHS, or feared catching coronavirus.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 747 deaths at homes in Bedford between the start of 2020 and August 20 this year.
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Of those, 463 occurred last year – 129 more than the annual average of 334 recorded between 2015 and 2019.
And so far in 2021 there have been 284 deaths at private homes, compared to an average of 212 for the same period in pre-pandemic years.
Across England and Wales, there were around 99,000 deaths at home in the first 33 weeks of 2021 – 23 per cent more than the five-year average.
By contrast, hospitals saw a 3 per cent fall, and care homes a 5 per cent fall.
The Nuffield Trust said the pandemic has seen a "sustained rise" in the number of people dying at home compared to the five-year average – though the reasons why are not clear.
Dr Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the think-tank, said: "Patient choice could be one factor, with more people choosing to die at home with family rather than in hospitals or care homes due to Covid-19 visiting restrictions.
"However, there is a fear that some may be putting off seeking urgent medical help.
“While it has been an ambition of health and care services to give more people the choice of dying at home, beyond the pandemic, it has to be accompanied by ensuring families and patients will be able to access the right end-of-life support.”
Around 3 per cent of the deaths at private homes in Bedford had any mention of Covid-19 on the death certificate, compared to 3 per cent nationally.
Sam Royston, director of policy and research at Marie Curie, said: “A higher proportion of deaths last year happened at home as people responded to the government advice which was to protect the NHS by staying at home to save lives.
"Many people nearing the end of their lives or living with a terminal illness were fearful of going into hospital and potentially catching the virus, not being able to see their loved ones, and sadly the possibility of dying alone."
He added that the number of people dying at home is going to increase, and as the population ages increased demand for palliative care in the community will follow.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The health service is open and we urge anyone to come forward to seek treatment if they need it.
“We are committed to backing the NHS at every turn, ensuring it has everything it needs to provide excellent care to the public and this year we have provided a further £29 billion to support health and care services, including an extra £1 billion to tackle the backlogs that have built up during the pandemic.”