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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.