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RCN calls for investment in health and social care as research links cuts to 30,000 excess deaths

Researchers link 30,000 excess deaths in 2015 to cuts in services. 

The RCN has called for properly funded health and social care services following the publication of research which suggests cuts could be linked to tens of thousands of excess deaths.

An analysis and accompanying paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, studied 30,000 excess deaths in 2015 in England and Wales, which were mostly from the older population and the largest increase in the post-war period.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, tested explanations for the rise in mortality which spiked in January 2015.

Health system failures

After ruling out data errors, cold weather and flu as the main causes, the researchers found the NHS performance data showed

The RCN has called for properly funded health and social care services following the publication of research which suggests cuts could be linked to tens of thousands of excess deaths.


Poorly funded healthcare has been linked to excessive spike in deaths from January 2015
Picture: iStock

An analysis and accompanying paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, studied 30,000 excess deaths in 2015 in England and Wales, which were mostly from the older population and the largest increase in the post-war period.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, tested explanations for the rise in mortality which spiked in January 2015.

Health system failures

After ruling out data errors, cold weather and flu as the main causes, the researchers found the NHS performance data showed evidence of health system failures.

The authors showed almost all targets were missed including ambulance call-out times and emergency department (ED) waiting times, despite unexceptional ED attendances compared to the same month in previous years. Staff absence rates rose and more posts remained empty as staff had not been appointed.

'Inreasing strain'

RCN Director of England Tom Sandford said: ‘We have highlighted again and again the warning signs which show a system under ever-increasing strain.

‘This research suggests yet more evidence in support of our call for properly funded health and social care services – the human cost of failure is simply unacceptable.

‘In 2015 the four hour ED target was met just once in 12 months, and already the warning signs this winter do not bode well – the four hour target in EDs fell to a new low in January. The evidence is mounting and this situation cannot be allowed to continue.’

Further inquiry

Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘The possibility that the cuts to health and social care are implicated in almost 30,000 excess deaths is one that needs further exploration. Given the relentless nature of the cuts, and potential link to rising mortality, we ask why is the search for a cause not being pursued with more urgency?’

A Department of Health spokesperson said the report was a ‘triumph of personal bias over research’.

‘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 the budget rose by almost £15 billion between 2009-10 and 2014-15.'

A Welsh government spokesperson said it was unhelpful to consider the Welsh and English systems together as ‘there have been no cuts to health and social services in Wales’. The spokesperson added that mortality rates were prone to fluctuation.


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