Huge fall in the number of "excess deaths" in Wigan

The vaccination programme and other measures have been credited for a massive fall in the number of excess deaths in Wigan last year.

By Patrick Jack
Friday, 28th January 2022, 12:30 pm

The pandemic was blamed for taking 563 more lives in 2020 than had been the average for the previous five years.

But latest figures show that that figure plunged to 104 in 2021 - one of the smallest figures per head of population anywhere in the country.

Wigan’s director of public health Prof Kate Ardern said that the vaccines had certainly made a major contribution to bringing the figure closer to normality again.

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Excess deaths fell by four-fifths from 2020 to 2021 in Wigan

However, she said there were a number of other factors which are also believed to have helped, including Wiganers’ healthy life expectancy rates’ continuing to improve, taking extra precautions to protect the most vulnerable and the way vaccines had been swiftly and efficiently rolled out locally.

Public Health England data compares the number of deaths registered with how many were predicted based on previous mortality rates to calculate the number of excess deaths in an area.

Based on estimates for 2015-19, Wigan was predicted to see 3,335 deaths from any causes in 2021, but 3,439 were registered – 104 more.

It means there were three per cent more deaths than expected last year – among the lowest proportions of all local authorities in England, though it was worse off than North Somerset, in the South West, which saw 29 fewer deaths than expected.

Prof Kate Ardern

Of the deaths registered last year in Wigan, 416 (12 per cent) had Covid-19 on the death certificate.

In 2020, there were 563 excess deaths in the area – though figures for that year only began at the end of March.

Excess deaths are considered a better measure of the overall impact of Covid-19 than simply looking at mortality directly linked to the virus, as they capture deaths that may have been indirectly caused by the crisis.

Since March 2020, 115,600 excess deaths have been recorded across England, causing a greater fall in life expectancy than anything seen since the Second World War, according to the King’s Fund.

Prof Ardern says that vaccinations have had a huge impact on reducing excess deaths but there have been other contributing factors too

However, last year saw 43,300 excess deaths, which was down from 72,300 in 2020.

Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at the think tank, said: “Covid-19 has struck in waves, and its future course is uncertain.

“However, although the pandemic has taken a toll of life that is unprecedented in recent years, the signs are that it is abating.

“Many factors will have contributed to this – the vaccination programme in particular.”

She added that some areas have suffered a greater loss of life than others, which is reflective of the “disproportionate impact” of coronavirus on deprived areas and people from ethnic minority groups.

Prof Ardern said: “Wigan’s mortality rate has been lower than expected and there are a number of reasons for that, not least healthy life expectancy among both men and women has been improving locally in recent years.

“Far fewer people are smoking now than when I arrived here 14 years ago and DVT and cancer mortality has improved too. In the years from 2009-11 to 2019 life expectancy has improved so much that it is not significantly different from the English average.

“This means there are fewer people particularly vulnerable to Covid than there would have been 10 years earlier.

“Other factors that helped reduce the impact of Covid have been the quality of local housing stock and fewer people commuting because they are locally employed.

“And then there are measures taken to protect the vulnerable. There were local supplies of PPE for care homes which helped when there were national shortages.

“We set up our wrap-around service at the Mercure hotel for homeless people and we have not had one death from Covid in that population and it has also had the added benefit of helping more homeless people turn their lives around.

“And there has been a high compliance rate among local people when it came to following the scientific recommendations to minimise infection.”

Prof Ardern said that the health care system learned fast as the first wave hit and new methods were introduced.

The authorities knew Covid vaccines were coming so well before their arrival they were already “road testing” the logistics of mass vaccinations when rolling out the annual flu inoculation programme, so that when the Covid jabs did arrive, they were able to hit the ground running. Even appointment times were timetabled to maximise success rates. For instance older people prefer their appointments early in the morning while others needed to fit them around work schedules.

And she also pointed to a very good uptake of the vaccine which takes several vulnerable categories into the “herd immunity” zone.

Figures show that by January 16 this year, 638,741 jabs had been administered in the borough: 76 per centvaccinated with the first dose, 70 per cent with the second dose and 52 per cent with the booster.

And when you look at the over-70s, 97 per cent had had the first dose, 96 per cent the second and 92 the booster. Slightly lower age groups are almost as high.

And similarly, of those classified as clinically extremely vulnerable, 95 per cent had had their first jab, 93 their second and 82 their booster.

The London borough of Newham saw 28 per cent more deaths in 2021 than were expected – the highest proportion in the country.

The Nuffield Trust said lockdown measures reduced the circulation of flu and other illnesses, which could be why the number of excess deaths nationally was lower than the number of Covid deaths in 2021.

And Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the organisation, said some patients who died from Covid may have subsequently died from a different cause instead if they had survived.

She added: “As the vaccination programme has rolled out, the number of Covid deaths has reduced, despite high numbers of cases.

“The huge toll of Covid should not be underestimated though – there have still been hundreds of excess deaths recorded every week since July 3 2021.”

The deadliest time of the year in England came over three weeks in January and February when there were around 5,000 excess deaths each week.

In Wigan, the highest weekly excess death total came in the seven days to January 8 when the area recorded 31 excess deaths.

By contrast, there were 20 fewer deaths in the week ending December 31 than had been predicted.

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