BOSSES at a Dorset hospital are begging people not to visit unless they are in a 'life-threatening situation', as new figures reveal more people have died at home in Dorset during the coronavirus pandemic than in the years before it.

Dorset County Hospital issued a plea yesterday - the second in 10 days - as bosses warned that the hospital 'continues to be extremely busy' and urged people only to use the emergency department (ED) if they are experiencing a 'serious of life-threatening situation'.

Instead, they advised that people should call 111 or visit www.111.nhs.uk to find out where they should go to seek medical assistance to avoid people turning up at the emergency department unnecessarily.

On Twitter, a spokesman wrote: "Our hospital continues to be extremely busy. Please only use our emergency department for serious or life-threatening situations.

"If you’re unwell and are unsure about where to go, visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111."

The plea came as end of life charity Marie Curie said many people avoided hospitals during the pandemic because they wanted to protect the NHS or feared catching coronavirus.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 2,393 deaths at homes in Dorset between the start of 2020 and August 20 this year.

Of those, 1,510 occurred last year – 367 more than the annual average of 1,143 recorded between 2015 and 2019.

So far in 2021 there have been 883 deaths at private homes, compared to an average of 743 for the same period in pre-pandemic years.

In the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council area, there were 2,179 deaths at home in the same period - 1,356 occurred last year, 342 more than average.

So far in 2021 there have been 823 deaths in private care homes across the conurbation, compared to 657 in the same period pre-pandemic.

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 three per cent fall, and care homes a five per cent fall.

Around one per cent of the deaths at private homes in Dorset had any mention of Covid-19 on the death certificate, compared to three 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 spokesperson for NHS Dorset CCG said: "We anticipate studies into the impact of Covid-19 will take place over the coming years which will give more insight into the effect of the pandemic.

"Given that the pandemic is ongoing, NHS Dorset CCG would not wish to speculate on the reasons behind the ONS data at this time.

"Our current focus is on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, rolling out the life-saving Covid-19 vaccine, recovering services and waiting lists, and supporting our staff.

"We would wish for people to have a choice about where they receive their end-of-life care. Increasingly people would rather die at home with their loved ones around them."