Unprecedented Increase in ‘Excess Deaths’ in England and Wales

New research indicates that the unprecedented level of excess deaths within the healthcare system in England and Wales can possibly be attributed to underfunding, particularly in social care.

Researchers assert, in an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, that what they describe as relentless cuts to the health service could be responsible for 30,000 deaths during the 2015 calendar year.

The government responded strongly to the claims, suggesting that the study is a “triumph of personal bias over research”.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Oxford, and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council worked together to produce the study, which reflected on is the largest increase in mortality for nearly half a century.

Numerous possible explanations were examined, but researchers concluded that “the evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care”.

“Our findings should be seen in the context of the worsening financial situation of the NHS. With an ageing population, the NHS is ever more dependent on a well-functioning social care system. Yet, social care has also faced severe cuts, with a 17 per cent decrease in spending for older people since 2009, whilst the number of people aged 85 years and over has increased by almost 9 per cent,” the researchers wrote in the report.

Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reflected on the opinion of researchers, suggesting that the lack of expenditure can be directly blamed for this unenviable statistic.

“The impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound. Expenditure has failed to keep pace with demand and the situation has been exacerbated by dramatic reductions in the welfare budget of £16.7bn and in social care spending. The possibility that the cuts to health and social care are implicated in almost 30,000 excess deaths is one that needs further exploration.”

McKee also queried why the matter was not being prioritised by the authorities.

“Given the relentless nature of the cuts, and potential link to rising mortality, we ask why is the search for a cause not being pursued with more urgency?”

The researchers believe that, in the absence of urgent intervention from the government, mortality rates will continue to increase.

But a spokesperson for the Department of Health in England expressed the disdain of the organisation for the assertions of the research, suggesting that fluctuations in death rates can be considered normal.

“This report is a triumph of personal bias over research – for two reasons. Every year there is significant variation in reported excess deaths, and in the year following this study they fell by nearly 20,000, undermining any link between pressure on the NHS and the number of deaths. Moreover, to blame an increase in a single year on ‘cuts’ to the NHS budget is arithmetically impossible given that budget rose by almost £15bn between 2009-10 and 2014-15.”

Responding to the research, Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron described the situation as a “national scandal”.

 

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