Trends in Excess Deaths

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:57 pm on 20 October 2023.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Women) 2:57, 20 October 2023

I congratulate Andrew Bridgen on securing this important debate. I only have five minutes of this 30-minute debate to respond. I will try to cover all the points if I can.

Can I start by acknowledging that the hon. Member is correct that we have seen an increase in excess deaths in the last year? However, I disagree with his analysis, because the causes that he refers to simply do not bear out the statistics that we have. There has been a combination of factors contributing to the increase in excess deaths, including, in the last year, high flu prevalence, the ongoing challenges of covid-19, a strep A outbreak and conditions such as heart disease, which he touched on, diabetes and cancer. Because we had had virtually a lockdown of routine health services over a two-year period, many people are now coming forward with increased morbidity and mortality as a result.

I will start with winter flu. The number of positive tests last year peaked at 31.8%, the highest figure seen in the last six years. Interim analysis from the UKHSA indicates that the number of deaths in England associated with flu was far higher than pre-pandemic levels, so the excess deaths due to flu last winter are, sadly, part of the answer.

The hon. Member touched on the independent body, the ONS. Its figures show that the leading cause of death in England is still dementia, which accounts for about 10% of all deaths. It also looks at the cause of excess deaths. If we look at the figures as of June this year, the top three causes of excess deaths are respiratory illnesses, dementia and ischaemic heart disease, which is often caused by an increase in cholesterol, smoking or not having a blood pressure check. There are a number of reasons, and they are often chronic conditions that people have had for years, or in some cases for decades; they are not acute illnesses.

In the three minutes I have left to respond, I will touch on some of the points that the hon. Member made. First, on the importance of vaccination, it is very easy to say that there is a prevalence of high rates of covid vaccination in people who have died. That is correct: when 93.6% of the population have had at least one dose of the vaccine, there will be a high rate of vaccination in excess deaths. That is different from causality. I completely agree with the hon. Member that there is a high prevalence rate, but that is not the same as saying that vaccination is the cause of those deaths.

The Office for National Statistics has looked at this, and those who have been vaccinated have generally had a lower all-cause mortality rate than unvaccinated people since the introduction of the booster in 2021. A recent study in Singapore looked at unvaccinated patients who had recovered from covid, and showed that those patients had a 56% higher risk of cardiac complications a year later than those who were vaccinated. There is conflicting data on this issue, and I am not necessarily disagreeing with the hon. Member, but I think we need to have a robust conversation about it, not to assume that one side necessarily has all the answers.

I will touch on a couple of points that the hon. Member made about vaccine safety. The regulator has been taking account of those who report adverse events, and I encourage anyone who has had a side effect from any of the vaccines to use the yellow card system and report it to their GP. When those side effects have been reported, the MHRA has taken action. In April 2021, the MHRA reacted to rare cases of concurrent thrombosis and thrombocytopenia following the AZ vaccine, which resulted in adults under 30 not being offered that vaccine. In May 2021, that was increased to adults under 40. With regard to the mRNA vaccine specifically, following reports of a link between covid vaccines and myocarditis, the Commission on Human Medicines conducted an independent review in June 2021, which found that the incidence of that side effect was rare: between one and two cases per 100,000. When there are concerns, we absolutely must investigate them. There is no doubt about that.

We had a debate earlier this afternoon about those who have experienced rare side effects from the vaccine. We do have the vaccine damage payment scheme, which offers a payment of £120,000 if that is shown to be—

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).