The rise in mortality—how the government has chosen to take note

The rise in mortality—how the government has chosen to take note

In May 2018 the Department of Health and Social Care responded to the recent rise in deaths in England by saying… that it monitors the age-standardised-mortality-rate, which it said had remained “broadly stable” and “did not warrant any action

In June 2018 an ONS report, using the age-standardised-mortality-rate, confirmed researchers’ concerns: deaths had in fact risen by a statistically significant 5% in the first quarter of 2018, reaching their highest rate since 2009.

In response the Department of Health and Social Care said that it was asking Public Health England (PHE) to conduct a review into deaths and would announce a publication date in due course.

Why was the department unable to say when it would be able to publish this review? Is it not urgent?

A department spokesperson said, “The number of deaths can fluctuate each year but generally people are living longer, and as the ONS said itself, the number of deaths last winter may be due to a combination of flu and uncharacteristically cold weather in February and March.

In fact ONS have not yet analysed the causes of death but (unlike the Department for Health and Social Care) ONS do say “influenza activity remained at medium levels throughout the whole of January and February 2018″. The levels were not high. Furthermore, the deaths began to rise rapidly long before the weather turned cold during February. The suggestion that an unusual rate of influenza is again to blame, as the department blamed flu in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012, is risible.

The Department of Health and Social Care continued: “We are taking strong action to help people live longer and healthier lives—cancer survival is at a record high while smoking rates are at an all time low, but we do want to understand more about life expectancy and mortality trends, which is why we have asked PHE to undertake a review.

Given the worst reversal of health outcomes since World War Two it is hard to see what the “strong action” is.

The British Medical Journal commented:

On hearing the news of a review, Hiam, Dorling, and Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, “We are delighted that PHE will be conducting a review, and we look forward to reading its terms of reference—in particular, whether it will examine the clear conclusion by the ONS that the longstanding improvements in life expectancy have slowed dramatically and, in many areas, have gone into reverse.

Read the latest letter published by Hiam, Dorling and McKee in the British Medical Journal on June 25th 2018 here.