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Excess Deaths: Policy Implications

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 24 January 2023

13. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the number of excess deaths in 2022. (903229)

Excess deaths data are published on the website, which was most recently updated on 12 January. They show that causes of death from conditions such as ischemic heart disease contributed to excess deaths in England in the past year.

The UK’s all-cause mortality for working-age people was 8.3% above the average for the previous five years and the fifth highest in Europe. On top of that, excess deaths are disproportionately experienced by the most deprived and by people of African, Caribbean and Asian descent. Given that these figures are driven by structural inequalities, and that those inequalities are getting worse—the richest 1% have bagged nearly twice as much wealth as the remaining 99% in the past two years—does the Minister think that it is appropriate to recommend that people pay for their GPs?

The Government are not recommending that people pay for their GPs. In fact, we are investing more in primary care than ever before, unlike the shadow Secretary of State who wants to dismantle the GP system and privatise the healthcare system as well. I think the hon. Lady needs to have a conversation with those on her own Front Bench. Not only did the shadow Secretary of State insult primary care teams for running up their vaccination programme, calling it “money for old rope”, but we are the ones who are investing in primary care services and making them more accessible to people.

According to Cancer Research and Action on Smoking and Health, smoking costs the NHS in Stockton £9 million a year and social care £5 million a year, and it costs some £47 million in lost productivity, unemployment and premature deaths. Assuming that one day soon we will get the Government to back a control plan, will Ministers ensure that it includes the desperately needed funding for local smoking cessation services?

Local decisions on public health are taken by local commissioning groups and local authorities, and it is for each local area to decide how it spends the money on public health.

The chief medical officer recently warned that non-covid excess deaths are being driven in part by patients not getting statins or blood pressure medicines during the pandemic. However, when looking at the data on statins on, which is based on monthly NHS prescribing, there appears not to be a drop, so where is the evidence? If there is none, what is causing these excess deaths? Will the Minister commit to an urgent and thorough investigation on the matter?

We are seeing an increase in excess deaths in this country, but we are also seeing that in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and across Europe. There is a range of factors. As we saw, there was an increase in December in the number of people being admitted with flu, covid and other healthcare conditions. That was seen not just in this country, but across Europe.

The Office for National Statistics has not issued mortality data by vaccination status since 31 May last year. Will the Minister confirm that her Department has collected that data for the rest of 2022 and inform the House when it will be published?

I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with that information. However, I must be clear that we planned for an increase in admissions this winter. That is why we got on and delivered on our plans for 7,000 extra beds, and why we brought forward our flu and covid vaccination programme and lowered the age of eligibility. There are a number of factors, and they are the same factors that have driven excess deaths across the United Kingdom and across Europe.

There were 50,000 more deaths than we would otherwise have expected in 2022. Excluding the pandemic, that is the worst figure since 1951. The Health Secretary—part man, part ostrich—says he does not accept those figures, but as many as 500 people are dying every week waiting for essential care, and we are still getting the same old Tory denial and buck-passing. In her answer, will the Minister finally take some responsibility, accept the ONS excess deaths figure, and recognise the damage that she and her Government are doing to our NHS?

I prefer to deal with facts rather than—[Interruption.] The BMJ has ranked the UK mid-table in Europe for mortality figures, which makes it comparable with Italy. In fact, Germany has higher excess deaths, at 15.6%, as do Finland, at 20.5%, and Poland, at 13.3%. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to hear about what is happening in Labour-run Wales, the statistics available on the website show that Wales, in December, had the highest number of red calls ever and that only 39.5% received a response within eight minutes—the lowest figure on record. Those are clinical reasons for excess deaths, not political ones. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that fact.