Changing mortality in England and Wales

Better health care and improved living conditions has led to a continuing fall in mortality in England and Wales since the end of the Second World War. Between 2003 and 2013, life expectancy in England rose by 3 years for men and 2.3 years for women. Deaths among the elderly are expected to push up the mortality rate eventually, but probably not until after 2025, when many of the population reach their late 70s and 80s. However, in 2012 and 2013 the death rate leveled out. After resuming its fall in 2014, it then rose sharply in 2015 and possibly into 2016. Some demographers believe it is just a blip, but others believe that the recent slowdown in the mortality rate might continue into the future.

(Source: based on ONS)

In 2015, about 30,000 more people died than in 2014, an increase of over 5%. That is the biggest annual leap for 50 years. Most of them were over 75. In January 2015 there was a 24% increase in deaths over January 2014. The trend is continuing, with the number of weekly deaths since mid-October 2016 still higher than in 2015.

What is unclear is the cause of the recent increase. Some suggest there was a mismatch between the most readily available flu vaccine and the predominant strain of the virus at that time. The Department of Health claims that that the most widespread influenza in 2015 was a strain that particularly affected the elderly. Others conclude that the most likely cause is a crisis in health and social care. Spending on social care, on which many elderly people depend, has declined by over 8% since 2011. Others claim that the spike of excess mortality in winter 2014-15 was real, but was no higher than those seen in 1996-97 and 1999-2000. Set aside the 2014-15 peak and the downward trend looks unchanged. However, looking at the graph, it suggests that the 2015 upward trend was more significant than other changes are far back as 1994. Since then, mortality rates have generally leveled off for a year or two before continuing to go down again. In 2015, mortality rates clearly increased. As the proportion of people aged over 75 years increases, it is very likely that mortality rates will continue to increase.

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