The causes of Britain’s alarmingly high excess death rate go far beyond Covid.
Most people assume “abroad,” “somewhere far away,” and most definitely not in Britain when they hear the phrase “humanitarian catastrophe.” But how else to explain the tens of thousands of deaths that are unnecessarily accumulating in the country’s morgues? Another hospital porter claims that the mortuary has been nearly full for two weeks. One funeral home employee claims that they have run out of spaces for the deceased and “are having to keep them encoffined in office rooms.” The front page of every newspaper and the top bulletin headline should feature this national issue. Why is it not?
There were around 40,000 excess deaths in the UK last year, or deaths that were higher than the five-year norm. That number is very similar to how many people the Luftwaffe lost during the Blitz. Taking into consideration variables such as a larger, older population, mortality in the final two weeks of 2022 was a fifth higher than the average from 2016 to 2019 (the last pre-pandemic year).
Since the pandemic started, there have been an estimated 170,000 more deaths in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics. Since the virus’s name is inscribed on the death certificates of more than 212,000 UK people, the majority of these can be directly linked to Covid-19. Some of the individuals who passed away may have been weak or ill, but in other situations, they might still have had years to live. We might have anticipated that excess mortality would eventually drop to below-average levels as the outbreak subsided. This has not taken place.
The number of fatalities was comparable to 2019 at the beginning of the previous year. As the actuary Stuart McDonald notes, mortality typically declines year after year, so to barely equal the death toll of 2019 was already symptomatic of a disturbing trend. We had just come through the worst of a pandemic in which many elderly and vulnerable members of society perished.
Even this data revealed something alarming: younger persons died at higher rates than average, and as spring arrived, more people died than in 2019. And here’s the thing: even if the horrifying Covid death toll is rising, many of these excess deaths are caused by other circumstances.
Britain has scars from characteristics that made it particularly vulnerable, both during the outbreak of the virus before mass immunization and afterward. Some are the direct results of Conservative policies, while others have more significant effects on how our society is structured. So, the excess deaths in the modern world go much beyond Covid.
First, there is the NHS issue. In England, there were an additional 2,200 deaths in December alone that were brought on by A&E waits. More than half of patients are waiting longer than four hours at A&E for the first time since data have been kept since 2011, and average ambulance response times in England are currently the worst on record.
Consider the admission by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt that he contributed to a staffing shortage in the NHS that made Britain more susceptible to the pandemic and its effects. Consider the effect on retention and recruiting of the Tories’ decision to eliminate the nurses’ bursary as well as the fact that since 2010, nurses have lost an average of £5,000 per year in real salary. There are currently 50,000 open positions in England.
There is little doubt that Covid has contributed to high staff absence rates and burned-out healthcare professionals who would have typically had some rest outside of the winter. A larger, more well-equipped workforce undoubtedly would have been better able to absorb the effects.
Also, keep in mind that one of the current NHS issues is the inability to discharge medically healthy individuals who still require help. A significant contributing factor to this is a lack of capacity in social care, which since 2010 has seen hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts, despite an aging population’s increasing demand for it.
A more structural issue is also in play. Inequality dominates our culture, and it leads to diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, respiratory disorders, and even cancer. So what happens if you introduce a pandemic into a severely underfunded healthcare system in a culture where health disparities are rife?
What if you added a cost-of-living crisis, which, for instance, makes vulnerable people afraid to put on their heating during cold spells like the one we had in the beginning of December? What if your government has spent years slashing the budget for public health, which is meant to encourage healthy lifestyles and avoid illnesses that put a strain on the NHS?
The neglect, deterioration, and level-up lies that characterize Britain’s pools and recreation facilities
The tragic pairing of a dysfunctional economic system and an ideologically ferocious leadership has left Britain vulnerable to calamity. It is important to describe this situation as a humanitarian emergency. Remember this, though, as the bodies fill our morgues and funeral homes: it was all preventable.