This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

pul jul aug2020 cover 80x101px
Read the latest issue online

Independents' Day

Some 30,000 excess deaths 'could be linked to NHS and social care cuts'

Almost 30,000 people may have died unnecessarily last year due to Government cutbacks to health and social care, researchers have claimed.

The study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine today, looked at offical data which showed that the number of deaths in 2015 represented the largest increase since the post-war period.

The 30,000 excess deaths included a spike in mortality in January 2015, most of which were among elderly people most heavily reliant on the NHS and social care services.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council looked at four possible reasons for the spike in deaths.

After first ruling out data errors, cold weather and flu as the main causes behind the unexpected statistics, they found 'clear evidence' of 'health system failures'.

These included almost all targets being missed, including ambulance call-out times and A&E waiting times - despite unexceptional A&E attendances compared to the same month in previous years. They also found rising rates of staff absences and unfilled vacancies.

However, the authors admitted in a separate analysis of their results that the study had 'many limitations' and was only an 'exploratory analysis attempting to address a complex phenomenon'.

'Given these constraints, we cannot reach a firm conclusion about what has happened, but we can at least point to fruitful lines of further inquiry,' the authors concluded.

The researchers added that there were worrying signs of increased mortality in 2016, and unless there was an urgent intervention it was reasonable to expect the trend to continue.

Professor Danny Dorling, from the University of Oxford, said: 'It may sound obvious that more elderly people will have died earlier as a result of Government cut backs, but to date the number of deaths has not been estimated and the Government have not admitted responsibility.'

Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the study showed that 'the impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound'.

He said: 'With an aging 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% decrease in spending for older people since 2009, while the number of people aged 85 years and over has increased by 9%.

'To maintain current levels of social care would require an extra £1.1 billion, which the Government has refused.'

mortality graph

mortality graph

Source: Hiam et al, JRSM online 17 Feb 2017

In response to findings, the researchers urged the Government to pursue 'with urgency' the exact cause behind the rise in death rates.

Professor McKee said: 'The possibility that the cuts to health and social care are implicated in almost 30,000 excess deaths is one that needs further exploration. 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?'

But a Department of Health spokesperson said: '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 £15 billion between 2009-10 and 2014/15.'



Readers' comments (7)

  • Jeremy Hunt is fond of using numbers, like the ones he manipulated to show an excess of deaths at weekends to support his unworkable policy.
    Unfortunately for the rest of us his attempt at avoiding a Mid-Staffs seems to revolve around turning the whole country into Mid-Staffs. It will be harder to spot any regional variation.
    If you're looking for some spin Jeremy how about '1 death is a tragedy, but 30,000 is a statistic'. (Borrowed from your Conservative friend Lenin.)
    I sincerely hope that in your case Jeremy if you live by the numbers then you die by them too.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Vinci Ho

    Please join these words with lines
    (1)David Cameron
    (2)Jeremy Hunt
    (3)Gerorge Osborne
    (4) Nick Clegg
    (5)Andrew Lansley
    (6)Health and Social Care Act
    (7)Francis Inquiry
    (8)Duty of Candour
    (9) 200,000 votes of no confidence
    (10) 30,000 excess deaths

    Try to map them up under the title of Social Injustice ?
    History is the judge

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • doctordog.

    Wow, and I thought Diesel engines were dangerous!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Spuds

    Sounds like an entirely political study and conclusion. Shameful pseudo-science.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • We need to be very careful in interpreting this and avoid falling into the same trap (or lie) as Mr Hunt has done. For years we have been defering death through better treatments but eventually we reach a limit and there will be a catch-up period of those who made it to very advanced age.

    There are probably other confounders such as WW2 causing many premature deaths (a lots generation) that were not counted in the 90s but now the boomer generation are the dominant demographic and their deaths will be predominate in these statistics. Social care matters but death is a crude measure of its quality.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Vinci Ho

    From the point of playing the game of politics , there is no obsession of cleanliness, especially if you are dealing with an enemy of bigotry , autocracy and bullying:
    ''There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.''
    Vladimir Lenin

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • It's all 'dog eat dog'. Crazy world we live in. Can not trust anyone to deliver the truth, even if there is such a thing as the 'real truth', which is debatable. While money is plenty everyone gets along. The moment the money supply dries up we all become like cornered rats fighting each other for survival. This applies to us, clinicians, as much as it it does to the government, management, patients and the media. Just blame the banks. They caused the last Great Depression in 1929, and we have yet to see the huge and massive worldwide economic collapse that is likely to take place anytime within the next 10 years or so.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say