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Excess deaths in UK hit highest level in two years amid NHS crisis

The Office for National Statistics has revealed a total weekly death toll of 14,530, 21 per cent higher than the average for this time of year

Eleanor Noyce
Thursday 05 January 2023 19:53 GMT
‘Intolerable’ NHS pressures show little sign of relenting, government warned

Excess deaths in the week before Christmas were the highest in two years amid a crisis in NHS care, new figures show.

Approximately 2,500 more people died than usual in the week ending 23 December in England and Wales, numbers from the Office for National Statistics reveal.

The total death toll of 14,530 is 21 per cent higher than would be expected for this period, compared with averages from the last five years.

The new figures represent the highest excess and overall deaths recorded since February 2021. At that time, the UK recorded 15,943 deaths from Covid as transmission rates remained high. But only 429 of the most recent deaths have been linked to the virus.

It comes as a struggling NHS continues to battle record winter pressures.

In December 2022, one in four ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be transferred to hospital A&E teams, due to a combination of bed shortages and increased demand. Four in 10 patients waited at least 30 minutes to be transported to A&E.

NHS trusts have a target of 95 per cent of all ambulance handovers to be completed within 30 minutes and 100 per cent within 60 minutes.

Last month, nursing leaders warned that the NHS was “dangerously close to overheating completely”, remarking that the figures suggested there was “absolutely no slack in the system”.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine believes that even before the current winter pressures, up to 500 people per week were dying on account of delays in emergency NHS care.

Downing Street has denied that the NHS is in crisis and instead blames the pandemic. As a result, the Doctors’ Association UK has penned an open letter to Rishi Sunak calling on the government to immediately recall MPs from their Christmas recess – which is scheduled to continue until 9 January – to hold an emergency debate on the state of the NHS.

The letter recommends that an all-party parliamentary group be established with the aim of fixing the NHS crisis, alongside an increase in funding.

“Contrary to reports from No 10, the NHS does NOT have enough money,” the letter reads. “People are dying because of an abject refusal to invest the sums needed to pay staff and provide social care.

“The result of inaction and ignoring our voices will be more preventable death, and haemorrhaging of hard-working, experienced healthcare staff.”

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