Prof Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Telegraph that Covid, flu, NHS wait times and, potentially, strike action had led to the high number of excess deaths.
“Covid infections probably peaked around New Year’s Eve, or at least between Christmas and NYE, so you would expect deaths to peak around the second week in January,” he said.
“So some of this rise is due to an increase in Covid deaths, as you’d expect. I think a lot of it is probably down to flu as well.
“There is a good deal of evidence that a lot of the excess deaths that we have been seeing may be because of problems in getting into hospital as an emergency. I think all of them are really important factors.
“For this week’s particular spike and deterioration in excess deaths, I suspect most of that is down to flu.”
Strikes, Prof Hunter added, “certainly wouldn’t have made things better”.
“I don’t know if the strikes were actually directly responsible for excess deaths, or if they were by how much, but it’s certainly plausible,” he said.
‘Denial and buck-passing’
Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at health charity The King’s Fund, said “unmet healthcare needs during the pandemic” and “unprecedented pressures on NHS services” had contributed to excess death figures.
Speaking during Commons health and social care questions, Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s shadow public health minister, accused the Government of “denial and buck-passing”.
“There were 50,000 more deaths than we would have otherwise expected in 2022. Excluding the pandemic, that is the worst figure since 1951.
“The Health Secretary – part-man, part-ostrich – says he doesn’t accept those figures, but as many as 500 people are dying every week waiting for essential care.”
Esther McVey, a former Conservative minister, asked for an “urgent and thorough investigation” linked to excess deaths.
Maria Caulfield, a health minister, told MPs: “We are seeing an increase in excess deaths in this country but we’re also seeing that in Wales, in Scotland, in Northern Ireland and across Europe, and there are a range of factors.
“There’s an increase as we saw in December in the number of people being admitted with flu, with Covid and with other healthcare conditions, and this is not something just seen in this country but across Europe as well.”