Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK has the highest reported rate of “excess” deaths in Western Europe, if not the world. These are deaths over and above the number predicted for the time of year, but at the peak of the pandemic, almost a third were not due to COVID. What were these extra non-COVID deaths attributable to, who was dying and in what settings? According to ONS analysis, the big risk factors for excess non-COVID deaths are age, dementia and female gender. Non COVID excess deaths are higher in areas where there was more COVID -19, and there are more non-COVID excess deaths outside hospitals both in care homes and in private homes. Possible reasons for excess deaths are:
- Undiagnosed COVID
- Delayed care-reluctance to seek health care
- Reduced services/hospital capacity
- Stress induced changes- encompassing social isolation. All disease is linked to increased ‘stress’, broadly construed
- Reporting issues-more deaths reported as systems of death registrations are quicker during COVID (less time lag to reported deaths than normally)
My interest is to study the causes of excess deaths providing a more detailed breakdown of whose lives were lost, where and why this happened based on both ONS data and a series of interviews. From a humanities and social sciences point of view, I am interested in the classification of cause of death into discrete diseases when the reality is there are multiple interactions between social and biological systems that weaken resilience and make people more vulnerable.
It is important because, when considering combating future pandemics, the various risks to life can be balanced during decision making. What must be avoided if there is a second wave or other pandemic are excess deaths due to implementation of the “lockdown” itself.