Excess deaths are on the rise – but not because of Covid

·2 min read
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Hundreds more people than usual are dying each week in England and Wales with Covid not to blame for the majority of deaths, new figures show.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show there were 1,540 excess deaths in the week ending June 24 but only around 10 per cent were due to coronavirus.

Health experts have called for an urgent investigation into what is behind the excess mortality, with fears that the pandemic response, lack of access to healthcare and even the cost of living crisis, may be to blame.

Before the end of March, deaths in England and Wales were lower than usual this year despite hundreds of people dying from Covid. Yet in the last three months, the situation has reversed, with overall deaths rising even though Covid deaths have been falling.

‘The reality is going to be quite complex’

Prof Paul Hunter, professor in medicine, at the University of East Anglia, said some of the excess could be people whose health was weakened by Covid. The infection is known to increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks. But he warned that there may be other more complex factors at play.

“Some might also be down to other impacts of the pandemic, such as problems in accessing health care, delayed referrals for treatment and then things related to the restrictions we lived under, such as reduced activity and sedentary lives,” he said.

“I think the reality is going to be quite complex but it’s something we do need to be aware of and actually try and understand.

“We know there is a relationship between excess deaths and deprivation so maybe the current financial situation we are in is exacerbating that.

“There is despair from your livelihood disappearing up the swanny. It doesn’t have to lead to suicide, chronic stress can lead to all sorts of problems.”

Dr Charles Levinson, the chief executive of the private GP company DoctorCall, also called for a government inquiry into what was causing so many deaths at home.

The ONS reported 752 excess deaths in the home in the latest week, 30 per cent more than usual, and more than hospitals and care homes put together.

“This is exactly why a proper government investigation is required,” he said. “This is not just displacement from hospitals... I do not understand how this is not being properly discussed.”

Dr Levinson added: "The reasons behind these horrific numbers are complicated and none of us fully understand them, so that is exactly why there should be an urgent and comprehensive Government inquiry.

"If anything, the situation seems to be worsening. Considering the relentless focus on one virus for more than two years, requesting answers from Government on thousands and thousands of non-Covid excess deaths is entirely reasonable."