Research has shown that a rise in mortality over the recent years is likely to be linked with NHS cuts and shortages. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and Blackburn with Darwen council found that 30,000 excess deaths occurred in 2015, at a time when “severe cuts” to the NHS and social care were made. The authors said health service austerity had been exacerbated by £16.7bn of cuts to the welfare budget and a 17% decrease in spending for older people since 2009. They also found that in 2015, 529,655 deaths occurred, which is the highest rate of mortality since 2008. Further, observed was the trend of deaths which correlated with the increasing waiting times in A&E departments, increasing bed shortages and rising number of operations cancelled. The research paper stated, “The evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care.”
A particular case that brings the harsh reality of NHS shortages into sharp focus, is that of Mary Muldowney, 57 who died from a haemorrhage that failed to be treated in time to save her because there were no intensive care beds available. Despite doctors requesting an immediate transfer to a specialist neurosurgical unit for surgery following findings of a severe bleed on the brain, Ms Muldowney died after at least three hospitals refused to admit her for surgery because of bed shortages. At her inquest, the coroner said evidence showed that Ms Muldowney “could have been transferred, undergone surgery, spent time in recovery, and then an intensive care bed procured”. She added, “With prompt transfer and surgery, Ms Muldowney would probably have survived. In my opinion, action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe that [the government has] the power to take such action.”
Barbara Keeley, the shadow social care minister agrees, saying “In the March budget, the government must provide extra funding urgently and deliver a sustainable settlement to deal with the crisis in health and social care.” The government has formally rebutted accusations that budget cuts are causing an increasing number of avoidable deaths and the Department of Health responded to the research by accusing the authors of the paper of bias. However, independent authors argue that the research is based on real data, which warns that the “spike” is showing signs of becoming an established pattern, with provisional official weekly mortality data from 2016 showing deaths from October onwards increasing by 7%.
Adam Hodson, an Associate Solicitor for the Medical Accident Group, says, “This research, along with the tragic death of Ms Muldowney, will undoubtedly put further pressure on the government to address a growing crisis. This has raised a huge red flag warning us that the health and care system may have reached the limits of its capacity to safely and effectively care for the population that funds it. It is promising though that senior health professionals are voicing their concerns through the means of publicising their research, so that the causes of avoidable death are identified, meaning that the NHS can work to prevent tragedies like the death of Ms Muldowney recurring.”
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