NHS waiting lists fall is due to surging excess deaths

Health and Education Policy & Politics

NHS patients are dying unnecessarily because of a backlog in waiting lists and poor levels of patient safety, contributing to surging levels of excess deaths, two separate studies have found.

One expressed fears that the biggest fall in waiting lists for NHS appointments in a decade explained by a spike in excess deaths with patients dying while waiting to be treated.

The other study found more than 15,000 people are dying because of poor standards of patient care in the UK which ranks only 21 out of 38 countries on four key patient safety indicators, according to researchers from Imperial College London and the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI).

Their findings have been described as a “wake-up call” for Britain by former health minister and renowned surgeon Lord Ara Darzi, <a href=”https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/12/14/nhs-waiting-lists-fall-for-first-time-in-decade-data-shows/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>reports the Independent</a>.

Commenting on the report – the first major international study of patient safety data – Darzi, a co-director of the IGHI said: “You can’t improve things if you don’t measure them and this is our attempt to engage clinicians in all countries — not just the UK — to have better measurements and drive performance improvements.”

Ireland, Spain, Italy, Estonia and Canada  all ranked above the UK with Norway, Finland and South Korea topping the table of patient safety country ranking.

If the UK rose to become the top ten nations, 15,733 fewer people would die from “treatable mortality”. Timely health care interventions would save thousands of lives, including 776 fewer deaths form natal disorders and 870 from avoidable medical errors.

The study looked at89 individual safety measures including cases of sepsis, stillbirth rates and the frequency of surgical items being left inside patients following surgery.

Meanwhile, <a href=”https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/12/14/nhs-waiting-lists-fall-for-first-time-in-decade-data-shows/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>the Telegraph reports</a> on the “biggest fall in NHS waiting lists in [a] decade” – but adds there are “fears” this could be because “patients are dying before getting treatment.”

September recorded a record high in the 75 year history of the NHS, with the waiting list for appointments climbing to 7.77 million. October saw the number fall back by 65,000 to 7.71 million – the biggest monthly fall (outside the <a href=”https://www.politicalfiber.com/news/downing-street/johnsons-plan-b-for-pandemic-at-risk-over-tories-christmas-parties-scandal/4668/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>pandemic</a>) since December 2011.

However, experts are concerned the fall is being caused by the actual backlog in waiting for treatment resulting in a growing number of excess deaths. A study published in the Lancet found that in the first six months of 2023, there were an extra 28,000 deaths compared to the previous five years.

Researchers found that middle-aged men and women aged 50-64 are the most disproportionately affected.

The cardiac waiting list has grown 18% in the last year. Over the same period, heart failure has become the fastest growing cause of excess death – 16% above the average.  One-in-three patients are waiting more than 18 weeks for life saving cardiothoracic surgery, such as artery bypass or valve operations.

“Waiting times for even urgent Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinics, which pre-pandemic were two to three weeks, are now months or even a year in some places,” said spokesperson for the Doctors’ Association UK, Dr Steve Taylor,  The GP called the rise in excess deaths among “relatively young patients” concerning.

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