Nearly 10,000 more people than usual have died in the past four months from non-Covid reasons, as experts called for an urgent government inquiry into whether the deaths were preventable.
Fears are growing that NHS delays at the height of the pandemic left large numbers of people with previously treatable conditions suffering illnesses that have now become fatal.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that England and Wales registered 20,823 more deaths than the five-year average in the past 18 weeks. Only 11,531 deaths involved Covid.
It means that 9,292 deaths – 45 per cent – were not linked to the pandemic.
‘We urgently need to understand what’s going wrong’
Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “I’m calling for an urgent investigation.
“If you look at where the excess is happening, it’s in conditions like ischemic heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver and diabetes, all which are potentially reversible.
“This goes beyond just looking at the raw numbers and death certificates. We need to go back and find if these deaths have any preventable causes.
“This could be the fallout from the lack of preventable care during the pandemic, and what happens downstream of that.
“We urgently need to understand what’s going wrong and an investigation of the root causes to determine those actions that can prevent further unnecessary deaths.”
Weekly figures for the week ending November 5 showed that there were 1,659 more deaths than would normally be expected at this time of year. Of those, 700 were not caused by Covid.
The excess is likely to grow as more deaths are registered in the coming weeks.
The number of deaths in private homes is also 40.9 per cent above the five-year average, with 964 excess deaths recorded in the most recent week, which runs up to November 5.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: “Numbers of deaths from all causes do usually increase at this time of year, but the total number remains above the average for the corresponding week in the five years 2015 to 2019.
“So, on that definition, we still have excess deaths, as we have had for 18 straight weeks now, and not all those excess deaths are due to Covid-19.
“And we’re still seeing considerable excess numbers of deaths in people’s own homes, compared to the 2015-19 average, with most of those deaths not involving Covid-19.
“In the most recent week, there were 891 excess deaths at home that did not involve Covid-19 – that’s about 127 a day.”
Record waiting lists
The NHS is still struggling to clear the backlog of treatment created by the pandemic, with one in 10 people in England – 5.8 million – currently waiting for an elective procedure, the highest number ever recorded.
A report published this week from the Royal College of Nursing warned that more than 120,000 people had been forced to wait for at least four hours in accident and emergency departments in October, an increase of more than 50 per cent since October 2019.
Ambulances are also taking longer to reach patients, with heart attack sufferers now waiting an average of 53 minutes before help arrives – nearly three times the NHS target. The number of patients treated in corridors has risen nine-fold since October 2019.
Data from the continuous mortality investigation from the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries is also starting to show some non-Covid excess, with nearly 100 extra deaths in the most recent week.
The investigation has previously said that recent excess non-Covid deaths were linked to the ageing population, with more people expected to die this year than last.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Any death is a tragedy for the family and loved ones that are left behind and our condolences go out to anyone who has been affected.
“Our record investment is helping to tackle the backlog and recover NHS services with an extra £2 billion this year, plus £8billion more over the next three years to deliver an extra 9 million check, scans, and operations.
“Alongside this, we are committed to levelling up health and the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will support people across the country to live healthier lives and prevent illness.”