Advising with empathy and experience

Biggest annual rise in deaths for 50 years.

England and Wales has suffered the biggest annual rise in deaths for almost 50 years, according to new figures, which have prompted warnings of an urgent crisis in elderly care.

Initial data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that in 2015 there were 5.4 per cent, almost 27,000, more deaths in England.

The year-on-year rise, to 528,340 deaths, is the highest since 1968. There were more deaths in 2015 than in any year since 2003. Numbers of deaths have fallen steadily since the 70s but began to reverse in 2011.

Oxford University professor, Danny Dorling, an advisor to PHE on older age life expectancy, said: “When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality - especially among women - since 2012. I suspect the largest factor is cuts to social services, meals on wheels, visits to the elderly.

"The statistics show that this is the biggest rise since the 1960s but this may turn out to be the greatest rise since the Second World War, taking into account the its sustained nature, as well as other factors, such as the trend for immigration of older people in the 1960s."

The figures come amid growing concern about failings in elderly care, with record levels of “bed-blocking” in hospitals because of a lack of basic help in the home.

Health officials said part of the rise in deaths might be explained by the failure of the flu vaccine last winter, which worked only in one-in-three cases.

But public health doctors said that the trends appeared to expose a deeper crisis.

Preliminary figures indicate there were 5.4 per cent more deaths in England and Wales in 2015 than in 2014, and 6.3 per cent more than the average of the preceding five years.

Public health director in Blackburn with Darwen, professor Dominic Harrison, who also advises PHE on life expectancy, said that the changes were a “strong and flashing” warning light, which required investigation.

Charity director at Age UK Caroline Abrahams, said a full investigation was needed urgently and added: " We owe it to older people to investigate why last year's statistics are so unusually high and to take firm action to address the causes, whatever they may be."