Hundreds more middle-aged people dying each month of preventable conditions in 'pandemic of ill health' since Covid

14 December 2023, 09:03

More people are dying of preventable conditions
More people are dying of preventable conditions. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Kit Heren

Hundreds more middle-aged people died each month of preventable conditions like heart disease and diabetes in the first half of 2023, compared to the last five years.

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Some 28,000 excess deaths were recorded in the first half of the year. The biggest rise was among adults aged between 50 and 64.

Obesity and long NHS waiting lists are thought to be the main factors behind the increased deaths.

Difficulties getting to see a GP and long NHS waiting lists mean more people are not getting the treatment that could prevent them getting seriously ill and dying. Unhealthy lifestyles are also fuelling the excess deaths.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, who led Public Health England during the Covid-19 pandemic, has warned that the Covid inquiry should focus more on these deaths - or risk "missing the point".

She wrote in the Times: "More people are dying across the world since 2020. The prime driver of this has not been Covid-19, despite its heavy death toll.

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"These deaths represent an underlying pandemic of ill health. They are driven by highly preventable conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis caused by lifestyle choices."

The inquiry has largely focused on government strategy so far - but Prof Doyle said the lesson should be the need for more action on improving the general health of the population.

She wrote: "Unfortunately, what has been said at the Covid inquiry about preventing the next pandemic focuses solely on tactical decision-making by political leaders. This misses the point.

"A disproportionate number of those who died from Covid were obese, diabetic, or lived in poverty with poor access to social care.

"People in these categories will be at most risk in any future pandemic and this is where the UK needs to focus its public health attention."

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The excess deaths problem appears to be getting worse. Some 7.2% more people died in 2022 than the average of the past five years, according to a study published in the Lancet. This increased to 8.6% in the first half of 2023.

The issue is particularly concentrated in the middle-aged population. Among people aged 50-64, deaths have been 15% higher than average over the past year.

Deaths from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes are all up over a third among this age group.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, chairman of the Royal Society for Public Health, head of health analytics at Lane Clark & Peacock and the lead author of the study published in the Lancet, said: :Nearly four years on from the beginning of the pandemic, we are still seeing significantly more deaths than would be expected.

"The vast majority of these excess deaths are not directly Covid-related but lasting impacts of the pandemic on the population’s health and healthcare system."

Meanwhile NHS hospital waiting lists have reached 7.8 million, a big uptick from 4.4 million before Covid.

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