The excess deaths were largely among older people who most depend on health and social care [Image: Alamy].

Remember when academic research proved that the Work Capability Assessment used on sickness benefit claimants caused a massive increase in mental illness – and 590 suicides?

The government tried to deny those findings with a nonsense argument, too.

In both cases, attempts have been made to undermine the accuracy of the researchers’ case.

Regarding the earlier research, Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) told This Writer that the DWP’s response “reflects a basic misunderstanding of how you do this sort of analysis”.

I have no doubt that the same could be said of the DH’s denial of the new report.

An unprecedented rise in mortality in England and Wales, where 30,000 excess deaths occurred in 2015, is likely to be linked to cuts to the NHS and social care, according to research.

The highly charged claim is made by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and Blackburn with Darwen council, who say the increase in mortality took place against a backdrop of “severe cuts” to the NHS and social care, compromising their performance.

The researchers ruled out other possible causes of the increase, including cold weather, flu and the relatively low effectiveness of the flu vaccine that year, noting that fatalities from the virus rose “but not exceptionally”.

After examination of NHS performance data for the period, which shows the service missing almost all its targets, they concluded: “The evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care.”

While accepting their findings would generate controversy, the authors expressed surprise that the rise and the reasons for it had not previously been scrutinised.

A DH spokesman described the study as “a triumph of personal bias over research”. He added: “Every year there is significant variation in reported excess deaths, and in the year following this study they fell by nearly 20,000, undermining any link between pressure on the NHS and the number of deaths. Moreover, to blame an increase in a single year on ‘cuts’ to the NHS budget is arithmetically impossible given that budget rose by almost £15bn between 2009-10 and 2014-15.”

The fall the DH refers to is the reduction in excess winter deaths, which compares those between December and March with those in the rest of the year. Excess deaths over the year are measured relative to the average in recent years.

The report’s co-author, Dominic Harrison… said the point the authors were making was that in months such as January 2015, which saw a spike in deaths, there was an insufficient service response to a surge in demand. He termed this a “fail event” and warned there could be recurrences over the next five years without a rise in funding. He added that preliminary figures pointed to a possible significant increase in excess deaths last month.

“I have few doubts that our findings will be strongly contested,” he said. “This report has been published in good faith in a peer-reviewed academic journal by senior health professionals who are concerned to understand the causes of avoidable death in the population – precisely so that we can avoid it happening again.”

Source: Health cuts most likely cause of major rise in mortality, study claims | Society | The Guardian

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