Research linking care cuts to 120,000 deaths ‘is fresh evidence austerity kills’

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“Indisputable” new research has linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 “excess” deaths in England since 2010.

The research, published just before midnight last night (Wednesday) by the online journal BMJ Open, concludes that people over 60 and residents of care homes have been particularly affected by the spending cuts.

And it warns that the cuts could continue to be responsible for an additional death toll of up to 100 deaths a day if significant extra funding is not found.

The researchers say the deaths are more strongly linked with cuts to social care than health spending, with every £10 drop in spending per head of population on social care associated with five extra care home deaths per 100,000 of the population.

The researchers from King’s College London; University College London; Oxford and Cambridge Universities; the PILAR Research Network; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and the University of the Philippines, point out the real term cuts of 1.19 per cent a year in social care spending between 2010 and 2014.

Their findings show that deaths in England fell by an average of 0.77 per cent a year between 2001 and 2010, but increased by an average of 0.87 per cent a year between 2011 and 2014.

They say that government spending cuts were linked to 45,368 excess deaths between 2010 and 2014, and are set to be linked to an estimated 150,000 further deaths between 2015 and 2020, equivalent to nearly 100 extra deaths every day.

Combining the projected excess deaths and the deaths observed between 2010 and 2014 translates to around 120,000 excess deaths from 2010 to 2017, they say.

Most of the deaths were among the over-60s and care home residents.

They also conclude that deaths in care homes and at home contributed most to the “mortality gap”, compared with hospital deaths, probably because of the greater spending restrictions experienced in social care compared with the NHS.

The researchers said that “no firm conclusions” could be drawn about whether it was the government cuts that were causing the deaths, but they said their findings backed up other similar research that suggested they were linked.

Research from the University of Oxford earlier this year suggested that cuts to health and social care were likely to be the main cause of 30,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in 2015.

The researchers say their new findings make “a strong case” for increased social care funding, targeted on improving care delivered in residential and nursing homes and in people’s own homes, while also maintaining or increasing nurse numbers.

But they say that it could cost an extra £25 billion a year in social care and health spending by 2020-21 to close the “mortality gap”.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national network of disabled people and service-users, said: “This is indisputable evidence that the long-term failure of social care exacerbated by seven years of severe cuts is a killer.

“A new strategy for old and disabled people based on NHS principles of universality, free care and funding from general taxation is now clearly critical for social care.

“No cost-cutting argument is tenable in the face of it.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “We are not surprised at these latest figures, shocking though they are.

“What is important is that the people of this country now finally realise what is being done in their name.

“This government has implemented policies and systems that are leading directly to the avoidable deaths of multitudes of people.

“It’s time to say ‘enough!’ This government is not fit to rule and must go at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Mark Harrison, of Disabled People Against Cuts Norfolk, said: “This study provides yet more evidence and confirms what we have been saying about austerity for the last seven years: Cuts kill! 

“Social care has been cut disproportionately and more people are dying every day. It’s time we had government that puts the needs of its citizens ahead of their own self interest.

“Listen to the UN: these are grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights and a human catastrophe.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “As the researchers themselves note, this study cannot be used to draw any firm conclusions about the cause of excess deaths.

“The NHS is treating more people than ever before and funding is at record levels with an £8 billion increase by 2020-21.

“We’ve also backed adult social care with £2 billion investment and have 12,700 more doctors and 10,600 more nurses on our wards since May 2010.”

But Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “This shocking mortality gap is a damning indictment of the dire impact which sustained Tory cuts to our NHS and social care services have had on health outcomes across the nation.

“Ahead of the budget, this appalling news must serve as an urgent wake up call to the prime minister.

“She must match Labour’s pledge to deliver an extra £6 billion for our NHS across the next financial year to ensure the best possible quality of care is sustained for years to come.”

The study was published just a week before the chancellor is set to deliver the budget, with increasing pressure on Philip Hammond to offer significant spending increases for both adult social care and health.