Government urged to address 10,000 rise in mortality rates

There have been more than 10,000 “additional deaths” in England and Wales over the first few weeks of the year, experts have said.

A new editorial published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) highlights that during the first seven weeks of 2018 there were 93,990 deaths in England and Wales, but over the same weeks in the previous five years an average of 83,615 people died.

This is a rise of 12.4%, or “10,375 additional deaths”, argue Lucinda Hiam from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Danny Dorling from the University of Oxford.

The editorial comes after a senior health official acknowledged that mortality was “over and above” what is expected.

During a Science and Technology Committee hearing last week, Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at Public Health England, said: “One of the things we monitor is the increase in mortality on a week-to-week basis over and above what we would normally expect for this time of year.

“We know that there has been a period of about four weeks or so during which that mortality has been higher than we would have expected.

“[In] week six [the week ending February 11] there is about 11,300 or so deaths in an average year in that week but we have had probably about 12,400/12,500.

“So it is that sort of increase over a defined period.”

The new editorial in The BMJ claims that an additional person died every seven minutes during the first 49 days of 2018 compared with what had been usual in the previous five years.

But the authors said that deaths from flu were not unusually high – accounting for 18.7% of deaths – and the weather during this time was above average.

They accused the Government of “not taking the slowdown in improvements in mortality seriously” as they pointed out reductions in life expectancy.

They wrote: “The Office for National Statistics in the past 12 months reduced its estimate of future life expectancy for both men and women in the UK by almost a year and, in doing so, has estimated that more than a million lives will now end earlier than expected.”

They added: “We and others have already called for an urgent investigation by the House of Commons health select committee.

“We did this because the Department of Health and Social Care is not taking the slowdown in improvements in mortality seriously.

“The figures for this year make the case for an investigation both stronger and more urgent with each passing day.”

Meanwhile, a separate study found that an ambitious cancer strategy published in 2000 had little impact on the rate of improvement in survival.

The NHS Cancer Plan set out government plans for improving prevention, delivery of care and research.

But a new study analysing the effectiveness of the plan found there was “little evidence” of an impact on one-year survival rates, or on socioeconomic disparities in survival.

NHS England said that cancer survival is now at an “all-time high”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are absolutely committed to helping people live long and healthy lives, which is why the NHS was given top priority in the Autumn budget, with an extra £2.8 billion, on top of a planned £10 billion a year increase by 2020/21.

“Along with Public Health England, we will consider this and other new research in this area.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved.