Deaths: Younger Age Cohorts

Thursday 11th January 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:06
Asked by
Lord Strathcarron Portrait Lord Strathcarron
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of (1) excess deaths not attributable to COVID-19, particularly coronary and vascular-related excess deaths, and (2) excess deaths in younger age cohorts, since 1 January 2020.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has estimated excess deaths for non-specific Covid disease groups. Across the course of the pandemic to date, deaths involving cardiovascular diseases were 12% higher than expected. Deaths from all causes in people under 65 were 13% higher than expected. We are acting to reduce excess deaths, including those involving Covid-19, by rolling out vaccination programmes, tackling elective backlogs and through action on preventable conditions such as cardiovascular diseases.

Lord Strathcarron Portrait Lord Strathcarron (Con)
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I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. Converting these statistics to reality means that 60,000 people died last year, mostly from heart-related conditions, at a much younger age than they would have been expected to before the pandemic and, in particular, our response to it. Could my noble friend suggest to the official Covid inquiry that, rather than concentrating on the tittle-tattle of WhatsApp messages, it considers whether lockdowns did more overall health harm than good—as evidence from around the world now suggests they did? Could it also investigate why, according to submissions already made to it, the UK has considerably higher excess mortality than other similar countries and in what way lockdowns and other interventions are linked to last year’s 60,000 young deaths, with no doubt more to come this year?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Lord’s excellent question. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities estimates that, from the start of the pandemic to date, the total number of excess deaths in younger cohorts—that is, those under 65—is just under 38,000. Across all ages, this is likely due to a combination of factors, including flu prevalence, the impact of Covid-19 and the continued prevalence of conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. Vaccines are our first line of defence and millions have received their jab in our autumn campaign. As regards the Covid-19 inquiry, it is an independent public inquiry and will determine the issues it chooses to explore within the parameters of its terms of reference.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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Does the Minister agree that we should take no notice of keyboard warriors and we should take notice of scientists who have proven facts and used statistics to make sure we make the right decisions?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question and I completely agree with him.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, I think it is fair to claim that the pandemic was the most comprehensively documented public health event in human history. How much are the Government spending on teams of crack medical data scientists to analyse the wealth of pandemic-related data from the UK and comparable countries? This is outside the inquiry, which I think is about blame to a certain extent, and decision-making in politics. It is about the science. I suggest to the Minister that, if the Government are able to recover money from dodgy PPE suppliers, investing in this research would be a good use of those funds.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. Of course, it is very important that we learn from the data. The NHS has very good data scientists, many of whom have helped me with today’s Question Time. Regarding the noble Lord’s other comment, he will not be surprised that I cannot comment on that. But your Lordships’ House can rest assured that the Government and the NHS have learned from the Covid pandemic and that it is very important to learn from examining the data.

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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Are the Government considering excess deaths from the damage to mental health that many of the lockdown conditions imposed, particularly in young people deprived of their traditional education settings?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point about mental health. One thing the pandemic exposed is the increasing mental health challenge, not just in young people but across the board. The Government will be launching a major conditions strategy, which will include mental health issues. We expect to notify your Lordships’ House on that in early spring 2024.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have put a significant amount of money into the NHS, which I welcome. However, the lion’s share of this money has gone into secondary and tertiary care, and, personally, I would have welcomed more money going into diagnostic services and preventative care. Therefore, can my noble friend the Minister say why waiting lists continue to rise, why the NHS is missing key targets and how the Government intend to address this?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend raises an important point. The Government have recruited more doctors, nurses, community diagnostic centres and single surgical centres. We are treating record numbers of patients. We know that the waiting list will rise before it comes down, as demand returns to the NHS following the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a good thing, and we urge everyone who is worried about their health to come forward. We are taking action to recover elective services by providing the NHS with record levels of staffing and funding, and by supporting trusts to maximise capacity via a new network of community diagnostic centres, surgical hubs and an increased use of the independent sector. These new investments will make a significant dent in the waiting list. Unfortunately, strike action has led to further increases in waiting lists this year.

Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con)
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My Lords, the increased mortality is due to 40 million people who are obese, and it is up to each one of them, if they wish to avoid a premature death, to start eating less and doing with one fewer meal a day. What is more, this would save the NHS as well as saving the 40 million people, because the obesity epidemic is costing in excess of £50 billion a year.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend makes a good point and is a doughty campaigner on such matters. We could all do with looking after ourselves, taking physical exercise and eating less.

Lord Kakkar Portrait Lord Kakkar (CB)
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My Lords, I draw noble Lords’ attention to my registered interests. A substantial research effort that not only attended the Covid-19 pandemic but came subsequently to that has resulted, particularly in the field of the management of cardiovascular disease, in the identification of novel biomarkers and advanced imaging techniques that will allow for earlier and more accurate detection of disease and risk. Is the Minister content that the output of that research effort is appropriately mobilised by the NHS through the health innovation networks across the NHS in England?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s expertise in this matter. I cannot say that I am content, but I can say that the Government have improved the NHS health check, our national cardiovascular disease prevention programme, investing almost £17 million in an innovative new digital NHS health check to be rolled out from spring 2024, which is expected to deliver an additional 1 million checks in the first four years, and investing £10 million in a pilot to deliver up to 150,000 CVD checks in workplace settings. In the olden days, when we had manufacturing factories, the workforce had nurses who used to look after their health and well-being. Sadly, that is not the case these days and the Government are trying to replicate that in the workplace. But the noble Lord raised an important point, and I will take it back to the department so that I can be reassured about what he asked.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the Lancet found that deaths from cardiovascular disease among those aged 50 to 64 are one-third higher than over the previous five years. To what extent do the Government assess that this comes down to the relevant average ambulance response times being consistently above 30 minutes since the beginning of 2022? For those who are suffering heart attacks or strokes, how will the fact that the Government have now increased the target for ambulance response times help to ensure that lives are being saved?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right to raise this point. I am not aware of the significance of her point on ambulance times, but the NHS makes every effort, through rigorous contingency planning, to minimise the disruption. The ambulance service does a good job, but clearly it has to do more. I will write to her on the specific point about ambulance times.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, on 24 October, the DHSC published a statement in response to concerns expressed in the other place. It said:

“There is no evidence linking excess deaths to the COVID-19 vaccine”.


I suspect my noble friend the Minister will reconfirm that. But, to put the matter to rest, can he undertake to promptly publish an explanation of the data or research on which the department has relied in reaching that conclusion?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, I cannot commit at the Dispatch Box to the exact point that the noble Earl made, but I will take it back to the department. What I can say is that Covid-19 vaccinations were very safe and saved millions of lives in this country.