It is imperative that lessons are learnt from Covid-19: The King's Fund comments on ONS excess death data for 2020

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Commenting on the ONS excess death data for 2020, Dr Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, said: 

‘Today’s ONS data confirms that England and Wales had 76,000 excess deaths in 2020 compared with the 2015–19 average, almost all attributed to Covid-19. This huge number of excess deaths led to the largest fall in life expectancy since World War II. It is all the more worrying as improvements in life expectancy had already slowed significantly in the decade before the Covid-19 pandemic, with deep and widening health inequalities between the richest and poorest areas. 

‘Most deaths from Covid-19 occurred in hospitals and care homes, while many deaths from other causes, such as cancer, happened in private homes. Whereas hospital deaths from non-Covid-19 causes were lower than in previous years, deaths in private homes were a third higher than in previous years, suggesting that many were people who might have typically died in hospital in a non-pandemic year. This ‘displacement’ of many deaths from hospital to home raises questions about whether Covid-19 impaired people’s ability to choose where to spend their final days. 

‘Given this enormous death toll, and the grossly disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our poorest communities and ethnic minority groups, a public inquiry into how the pandemic was handled is urgently needed. 

‘While the NHS is delivering an admirable vaccination campaign, the pandemic isn't over yet –this year Covid-19 has already caused 57,000 deaths up to 23 April. Learning the lessons to date of containing this virus is imperative in order to avoid the mistakes of the past, better prepare for any future threats to public health, and keep the potential loss of life in future to a minimum.’ 

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.