NHS winter crisis – 10,000 excess deaths


THE NHS winter crisis was responsible for an extra 10,000 deaths in the first weeks of 2018, figures published in the British Medical Journal show.

The article in the BMJ accuses the Health Chiefs of failing to investigate the cause, whether they are indeed a result of Tory cuts to the NHS. Lucinda Hiam at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Danny Dorling at the University of Oxford examined the data.

They said that the weekly mortality figures show 10,375 additional deaths (a rise of 12.4%) in England and Wales in the first seven weeks of 2018 compared with the previous five years. This rise cannot be explained by ageing of the population, a flu epidemic, or cold weather – and no official explanation has been forthcoming as to why death rates have continued to be so high relative to previous trends, they write.

However, they note that the first seven weeks of 2018 were unusual in terms of the operation of the NHS. On 2 January, after ‘an unprecedented step by NHS officials’, thousands of non-urgent operations were cancelled, a clear sign of a system struggling to cope. 

Many hospitals were already at or beyond their safe working levels, ‘with high numbers of frail patients stuck on wards for want of social care’, and a rise in influenza cases had begun. They point out that the Office of National Statistics has in the past 12 months reduced its projections of future life expectancy for both men and women in the UK by almost a year each, and, in doing so, has estimated that more than a million lives will now end earlier than expected.

Mortality in infants born into the poorest families in the UK has also risen significantly since 2011.

Meanwhile, an alarming continuing decline in junior doctors has been raised in the UK Foundation Programme’s Career Destinations Report 2017 with the BMA attributing the decline to the extreme pressures that junior doctors face.

These are pressures during training in clinical practice in an under-resourced NHS as well as the new junior doctor contract, imposed by Tory Health Secretary Hunt, and which doctors rightly insist is dangerous as it burns doctors out.

Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair, said: ‘Our own research published last month showed that junior doctors often feel that after two years on the foundation programme, they need to step off the treadmill of training and take a step back before making such a major decision over their future career.

‘Current data suggest that the majority of those who took time out in the past have returned to training. However, there is no guarantee that this will continue to happen, and so more work must be done to tackle the underlying reasons behind these breaks, which we know are due to the systemic pressures within the health service that put junior doctors at serious risk of burnout.’