Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

The UK has entered a third phase of excess deaths during the pandemic with more people dying than expected and the figure not easily explained by coronavirus.

In the week ending November 12, 2,047 more deaths were registered than during the same period between 2015 and 2019, but Covid-19 was mentioned on death certificates for only 1,197 people.

The new phase of excess deaths creates the possibility that more people have lost their lives since the summer due to stress on the NHS or a lack of early diagnosis of serious illness, although the interpretation of the figures is disputed.

Data from the Office for National Statistics, National Records Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency showed three different phases of the pandemic.

Bar graph of Deaths in the UK (sum equals surplus deaths) showing weekly excess deaths no longer just explained by Covid-19

In the first wave of infections, Covid-19 was often not diagnosed as a cause of death because tests were not available and the disease was new, leading to a large excess of non-Covid deaths as well as deaths attributed to the virus. word.

By last winter, the start of the second phase, test problems had been solved and more coronavirus deaths had been attributed than the number of excess deaths, suggesting the pandemic was killing people who would have died anyway.

Once the wave subsided, the cumulative total of excess deaths dropped with consistently fewer than expected deaths recorded per week between March and July.

Bar graph of deaths in the UK above the 2015-2019 average showing the UK surplus deaths since the start of the pandemic has declined in the summer but is now rising again

But since the summer, the number of excess deaths has risen steadily, causing a third phase. The figures show not only Covid deaths but also non-Covid deaths, which have been higher than the weekly average for the five years leading up to the pandemic since early July.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at Norwich Medical School, said he initially suspected the excess deaths in recent months could be caused by a return of respiratory viruses, such as flu, but data suggest cardiovascular disease and stroke are the most prominent conditions were. which contributes to the unexpectedly high mortality rates.

Although excess deaths were a “blunt measure,” he believed another factor was the increase in deaths at home, which is about 30 percent higher than before the pandemic.

“I assume either it’s because people who have to go to the hospital decide against it because they are worried about Covid or they try to get into the hospital and then wait too long for ambulances and then succumb,” he said. .

Stuart McDonald, a fellow at the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, a professional body, said official statistics are likely to overestimate the level of excess deaths because 2015-2019 figures did not take into account an aging population.

“The percentage of older people is growing, so you can expect the number of deaths to increase every year,” he said.

Using the institute’s baseline, there were few excess deaths not attributable to Covid-19 in the third phase. But the new Office of Health Improvement and Inequalities, who took over duties from Public Health England in October, and also uses a sophisticated baseline, has shown excess deaths are not adequately explained by Covid.

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust, a think tank, said there was no “hard evidence” that people sought or obtained medical help later than they would otherwise have done during the crisis.

But, she added, Covid has prevented year-on-year improvements in excess mortality rates.

The US, which compiles death rates for England and Wales, could not comment.

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