A health expert has suggested that the large increase in the number of deaths in England and Wales over the last year should be considered a public emergency.
Professor Dominic Harrison says this must act as a “strong warning light”, and implies that it is critical to assess social care budgets in the light of significant physical cuts.
Public Health England has admitted that it is already monitoring data in relation to this topic.
However, the organisation claims that a particularly serious strain of flu, coupled with a vaccine that achieved less efficacy than usual, may have contributed significantly to the rise in deceased individuals.
Prof Harrison’s own analysis backs up figures in the Health Service Journal, which suggest there have been 5.6% more deaths in England and Wales in 2015 than in the previous year; the biggest increase in the national death rate since the 1960s.
Harrison, the director of public health in Blackburn and Darwen and adviser to Public Health England, believes that ahead of the final release of the figures – which will come in from the office for National statistics in the summer – experts must assess and ultimately understand the reasons behind this alarming spike in deaths.
An Office for National Statistics spokesperson confirmed this.
“Final figures and age-standardised mortality rates, which give a more accurate indication of trends in annual deaths, will be published in July, once population estimates for 2015 are available.”
Early analysis of the figures indicates that this cannot be considered a statistical anomaly, and that there must be a clear cause for the sudden rise in this obviously critical issue.
Cuts to important services such as meals on wheels were particularly blamed for some of the problems, with Harrrison suggesting that this sort of critical daily contact can have a massive influence over health outcomes.
“One of the things this data might be telling us is that that it is just not possible for the health and social care system to contain costs, improve quality, reduce inequality and improve outcomes within such a rapidly diminishing resource envelope.”
Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer at Public Health England, did indicate that patterns in the data were difficult to perceive, but that it is very important for the health authorities to monitor this information closely in the future.
“There is often no obvious pattern to this but it is clearly important to keep a close eye on the trends, and consider a range of possible explanations. In 2015, the monthly death figures suggest cold weather and flu may have played a part in the high numbers of deaths in the early part of the year.”
Already damning figures have suggested that social care is a massive issue, and that the government needs to invest a significant amount of money in this key area of healthcare in the coming years.
Well-known demographic issues merely exacerbate this problem.