A paper published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine last Thursday claims that a significant rise in mortality in England and Wales in 2015 is likely to be the result of cuts to NHS and social care budgets.

New research undertaken by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn and Darwen Borough Council, claims that there were 30,000 excess deaths in 2015 with the majority occurring among older people.

The increase was the greatest rise in mortality in percentage terms for nearly 50 years and the provisional data available for 2016 seems to indicate that the increase is likely to continue with data showing a 7% increase in deaths since October 2016 when compared with the five year average.

The study claims that all key NHS performance markers “worsened markedly” in January 2015. Ambulance call out times were below target, people were waiting longer to be seen in A+E and waiting longer for diagnostic tests and consultant led care. The number of operations cancelled for non-clinical reasons increased and more and more NHS posts were left empty as hospitals failed to appoint new staff.

The paper concludes that the findings should be viewed in the context of the “worsening financial situation of the NHS” and states that “since the 2010 election the impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound.” There has also been £16.7 billion worth of cuts to the welfare budget and a 17% decrease in spending on older people since 2009 despite the population of over 85 year old having increased by 9%.

Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn and Darwen Council and one of the authors of the study said that the research “raises a red flag that is telling us that the health and care system may have reached the limits of its capacity to safely and effectively care for the population that funds it. Our analysis suggests that the most likely cause of that failure is, when all other possible explanations have been excluded, is insufficient resources and capacity.”

Solicitor Ceilidh Robertson from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day said “The increase in deaths in 2015 is extremely concerning. The fact that most these deaths occurred within the older population who are more dependent on health and social care suggests that there is a link between the quality and availability of such provision and mortality rates.

“Clearly further research into the link between NHS and social care funding and mortality rates are needed.”

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