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Thursday, January 18th, 2024, 11:28 am

Still High Excess Deaths, Even in Children

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Full speech from Dr. Johnson
This is a very important debate and I will try to make my speech as short as possible. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire on raising this issue and on his determination to highlight the challenges that we are facing. On the one hand, we might have expected that the pandemic would shorten the lives of a number of our more frail citizens and thus have expected a fall in deaths post-pandemic, and we saw that. The ONS reported roughly 608,000 deaths in England and Wales in 2020, 586,000 in 2021, and 577,000 in 2022—that was higher than 2019 when there were about 531,000 deaths, so that does warrant further inspection. We expect a fluctuation year on year, and we also expect

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the total number of deaths to increase year on year as the population increases and ages. We therefore look at the five-year average, and currently we are using 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022 because of the outliers in 2020. Even then, it is unlikely that we will be exactly at the average, and we would expect some years to be higher or lower.

The ONS monthly mortality analysis shows that, in 2022, there were 32,000 more deaths than the five-year average, and in January to July 2023, there were 21,809 more. That equates to an annualised figure of around 37,000, but the figures appear to stop in July 2023. Would the Minister advise as to why the data series has been discontinued? It would be helpful if it were not. However, those are raw numbers and we must be cautious because, as the population ages and increases, so will the number of deaths. The ONS therefore uses the age-standard mortality rate, which has fluctuated month on month but is actually down for both 2022 and 2023 when compared with the five-year average. Overall, when adjusted for age and population size, the number of deaths is not excessive, given what we would expect.

We need to look further at the trends on age and the causes of death to see a fuller picture. Others will no doubt speak of rising cardiovascular disease in men, the late presentation of cancers or the rise in liver disease, but as a consultant paediatrician, I would like to focus on children. The National Child Mortality Database collates data on children’s deaths from nought to 18. Its latest bulletin from March 2023 shows that there were sadly 3,743 deaths to the end of that month, which is an increase of 8% on the previous year. Would the Minister comment on what investigation she is doing into the cause of that increased mortality and what is being done to prevent further deaths? The purpose of the child death overview panel is to investigate those deaths, but the average investigation is taking 392 days, with less than half completed in 12 months and a significant fall in the number being completed in 12 months. What is the Minister doing to improve that process?

One particularly distressing feature of child death data is that suicide or deliberate self-harm was a primary cause of death of children between 10 and 17 years, and looking at the data, it is getting much worse with children between 10 and 14. I understand that the Government are aware of those figures and are investing in mental health for children and improving online safety. I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated further on the steps they are taking to support children and prevent further tragedies.”

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