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NHS launches major investigation after spike in elderly patient deaths

Public health chiefs have begun a major investigation after an internal report found around 500 more deaths in the over 85s in the first four months of the year, compared with the same period in 2012.

The document, produced by Public Health England, found a ‘very substantial’ increase in mortality rates in the over 85s and also that death rates in patients aged over 65 years old were consistently higher than in 2012, which itself was higher than the previous two years.

The report analysed weekly figures produced by the Office for National Statistics. The average number of deaths of people aged 85 and above in 2013 was around 4,700 up to April, decreasing to around 4,250 from April to June.  

This compared with an average of around 4,200 in the first four months of 2012, and around 4,000 from April 2012-June 2012.

PHE said it was ‘undertaking further work’ to understand why this increase occurred, but suggested that there were many more reported deaths resulting from respiratory causes.

The report said: ‘Up to age 65, deaths counts in 2013 are similar to those in 2012; and below those for the previous two years. Over 65, deaths in 2013 have been substantially higher than those for 2012 over the year so far.

‘For those over 85, overall deaths in 2012 were very substantially higher than over the previous two years; and deaths in 2013 look on track to be similarly high.’

A statement from PHE acknowledged that the death rate was over 2012/13. It said: ‘As acknowledged in Public Health England’s annual influenza report, the number of deaths during 2012/13 was high, especially amongst those 85 years and older and in deaths recorded as resulting from respiratory causes.

‘We are currently undertaking further work to understand why there was a rise in mortality rates during the earlier months of this year and the causes behind this. The weekly number of deaths are currently within levels expected for this time of year.’

This comes as the health secretary has instigated special measures in 11 hospitals in England, after an NHS England report uncovered ‘fundamental breaches of care’ such as poor governance, inadequate staffing levels and high mortality rates at weekends.

Readers' comments (7)

  • Fancy people over 85 dying...totally shocking...must be GPs fault.

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  • Wait.... does this mean that the NHS managed to keep 500 more people alive until age 85 or above in the last 12 months than in previous years?

    All of them should get sent to the tower!

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  • Really 'telling' attitudes you two previous commenters display here. Says an awful lot about your mindset concerning seniors in the UK.

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  • 00:27 is either very newly qualified or not a health professional. The 2 comments referred to are a bit sarcastic but have a hint of realism to them. I bet both are doctors who care very much about their elderly patients. The biggest issue for the elderly is not medical care that they receive it's the lack of basic social care and the help that families, communities and the state fail to provide in hospitals and out.

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  • entirely agree 00.27 is talking tosh
    we do our best for elderly patients but we are all mortal and this was a severe cold winter
    having been a GP for 25 years I have seen this variation before and some winters you see higher peaks in mortality than others -
    these days so often there is a need to identify a fault when there isn't one and to find somebody to blame

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  • Has these deaths any connection with Liverpool criteria used for the care of elderly ?which have been severely criticised in the press recently or is there the ' hospital at home' change in attitude to cut NHS hospital costs the cause for these deaths?

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  • Vinci Ho

    Is it wise to draw conclusion on one figure which is standing out of the previous pattern? The pattern can change time to time by chance factor(go back to statistics) . Death or mortality rate is not always specific to reflect the true picture . Rather this is an alert to ensure the trend is not going to be sustained.

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