Experts call for investigation over ‘catastrophe’ of post-Covid excess deaths

Deaths from lockdown may exceed those from Covid says expert

Unexpected deaths are more than 10 percent higher than the pre-Covid average, with experts warning we are facing “a catastrophe of equal proportion to the pandemic itself”.

They are calling for an urgent investigation into the causes, with figures showing that there were more excess – or unexpected – losses last year than in 2021.

There were 67,724 extra deaths in England and Wales between April 30, 2022 and April 28, 2023. That is 12.8 percent above the pre-­pandemic five-year average.

Of these, a quarter were attributed to Covid, with three-­quarters given as non-coronavirus causes.

This excess is higher than the number of excess deaths during the pandemic in 2021. Then there were 54,770 extra, mostly Covid deaths compared to the pre-pandemic five-year average – a 10.3 percent increase.

Experts have puzzled over the cause of the post-pandemic rise, which has been largely attributed to heart problems or diabetes.

Some blame the long-term effects of delayed healthcare due to lockdown measures, while others point to the record NHS waiting lists.

Cancer specialists are also increasingly alarmed over the delayed diagnoses or treatments translating into increased mortality.

In December, Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, blamed reduced prescriptions for statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs during Covid restrictions.

However, other experts argued that statins take a long time to have an effect on reducing heart disease, while an Oxford study ­found there was no reduction in those prescriptions.

Some have blamed an ageing population. But figures show most excess deaths over the past year have been in those under 75, with fewer than expected from conditions such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

Last week oncologists re-stated their alarm about a “cancer time bomb”, with thousands of people losing their lives to the disease due to delayed diagnosis and treatment. They predict tens of thousands of excess deaths over the next decade.

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Prof Gordon Wishart, a breast cancer surgeon of private diagnostic service Check4Cancer, carried out the cancer research. He said: “The levels of excess deaths we are seeing is a catastrophe of equal proportion to the pandemic.”

Prof Richard Sullivan, at King’s College London, said: “We fear the cancer death waves will get bigger and bigger leading to tens of thousands of lost life years.”

The Department of Health said it had published a recovery plan to combat waiting times, adding: “We are fully focused on improving cancer outcomes.”

Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine said: “How high do excess non-covid deaths have to go before we do anything about it? We need to urgently investigate what is causing this rise as well as immediately prioritise cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There are a wide variety of factors which have contributed to excess deaths in recent months – with other countries across Europe such as France and Germany facing similar circumstances.

“We recognise the pressures our health services are facing and that is why we have published and Urgent and Emergency Care and a Primary Care Recovery Plan – to cut waiting lists and get people the care they need, when they need it. 

“We are fully focused on improving cancer outcomes, and recently announced a call for evidence to inform our Major Conditions Strategy on how best to diagnose and manage six major conditions – including cancer – further underlining our commitment to fighting cancer on all fronts.”

  • More than 23,000 patients died in A&E wards last year, a third higher than in 2019, according to figures obtained by Labour.


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