Biggest Rise In Deaths In Almost Half A Century: Calls For An Imidiate Investigation After Rate Jumps By 5.4% In 2015

The rise in both the number of deaths and crude death rate are the biggest for many year but similar increases have taken place before in the early 1950s and the late 1960s

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  • Similar increases in number of deaths took place in the early 1950s and the late 1960s
  • Spike in deaths during the first months of 2015 attributed to flu and ineffective vaccines
  • Economic downturn also cited as possible cause of rise in number of deaths 

England and Wales endured the biggest annual rise in deaths for almost 50 years last year, new figures have revealed.

Public health experts have called for an investigation after the provisional statistics show a 5.4 per cent increase in deaths in 2015 compared to 2014 and 6.3 per cent more than the average for the preceding five years.

Many of the deaths took place in the first months of 2015.

The Office for National Statistics figures also suggest that the crude death rate – not adjusted for changes in the population age profile between years – also increased by 4.9 per cent on 2014.

The rise in both the number of deaths and crude death rate are the biggest for many year but similar increases have taken place before in the early 1950s and the late 1960s.

A spike in deaths during the first months of 2015 have been attributed to flu and ineffective vaccines.

In February last year, it was reported that the winter death toll was the highest for 15 years after millions were given a useless jabs.

Death rates during the flu season in England and Wales were 25 per cent higher than the previous year.

Public Health England (PHE) have admitted that the vaccine only protected three in 100 people who receive it and does not help protect against the strain that caused devastation this winter.

But public health experts told the Health Service Journal (HSJ), who reported the story last night, that this did not explain the growth in 2015, and similar patterns in recent years.

The HSJ said that the causes for the high death rates were still unknown.

Experts have floated a number of theories including, weather, flu, cuts to care, support and health services, the recession, high pressure on NHS, a rapidly growing older population, older people returning to England from abroad and unidentified infections.

Death rates during the flu season in England and Wales were 25 per cent higher than the previous year

Dominic Harrison, an honorary professor at Central Lancashire University and Blackburn with Darwen’s public health director, said the changes were a ‘strong and flashing amber warning light [that] something is making the population more vulnerable to avoidable death’.

Blaming the deaths on government cuts he said: ‘One of the things this data may be telling us is it is just not possible… to contain costs, improve quality, reduce inequality and improve outcomes within such a rapidly diminishing resource envelope.’

He added: ‘We need to understand exactly what is happening if we are to prevent it continuing.’

Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford University and an expert on inequality, another advisor on the report, called for the chief medical officer to investigate.

He said: ‘When people study 2015 [and take into account population changes] it is quite possible this will be the biggest rise [in deaths] since wartime.’

He added that he did not believe the rise was explained by flu or ineffective vaccines, and there were many possible reasons, including the impact of funding constraint, other policy, and the economic downturn.

David Buck, King’s Fund senior fellow for public health and inequalities, said there were multiple possible causes. He said: ‘PHE really needs to get behind this and investigate more thoroughly as guardian of the nation’s health.’

A spike in deaths during the first months of 2015 have been attributed to flu and ineffective vaccines

Public Health England’s chief knowledge officer John Newton said: ‘We have been monitoring changes in life expectancy and mortality in England… We find the statistics for older people fluctuate quite a bit from year to year and around the country. There is often no obvious pattern to this but it is clearly important to keep a close eye on the trends and consider a range of possible explanations.

‘In 2015, the monthly death figures suggest that cold weather and flu may have played a part in the high numbers of deaths in the early part of the year. Especially given that A(H3N2) was the dominant subtype circulating last flu season in the UK. In any flu season dominated by an H3 subtype, unfortunately we can expect the burden of illness to be seen in the elderly and therefore a relatively high overall mortality. Changes in the population over time can also have some surprising effects on these statistics for technical reasons. It is important to keep an open mind.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘This is provisional data and our experts monitor deaths closely. Excess winter deaths can be due to a number of causes and deaths can fluctuate from year to year.

‘We will continue to monitor this data closely and be advised by experts on any action necessary.

‘Our Cold Weather Plan sets out a series of actions that health and social care organisations, voluntary groups, and individuals can take to plan for cold temperatures.’ 

By Bradley Hayes 16/02/2016 11:17:00