Excess deaths in 2015 may be linked to failures in health and social care

Martin McKee on Channel 4 news

Researchers exploring why there has been a substantial increase in mortality in England and Wales in 2015 have concluded that failures in the health and social care system linked to disinvestment are likely to be the main cause.

There were 30,000 excess deaths in 2015, representing the largest increase in deaths in the post-war period. The excess deaths, which included a large spike in January that year, were largely in the older population who are most dependent on health and social care. Reporting their analysis in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Professor Danny Dorling, and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, tested four possible explanations for the January 2015 spike in mortality.

After ruling out data errors, cold weather and flu as main causes for the spike, the researchers found that NHS performance data revealed clear evidence of health system failures. Almost all targets were missed including ambulance call-out times and A&E waiting times, despite unexceptional A&E attendances compared to the same month in previous years. Staff absence rates rose and more posts remained empty as staff had not been appointed.

The researchers note the limitations of the study, stressing that it is an exploratory analysis attempting to address a complex phenomenon, and have called for further investigation.

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