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Faculty of Economics

Tuesday, 1 November, 2022

Increased pressure on doctors, nurses and hospitals may have created an unfortunate spill-over effect, as a result of much attention being given to Covid patents, and increasing preventable excess deaths among patients seeking medical help for reasons unrelated to the pandemic.

Assistant Professor Christopher Rauh, from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge, and Thiemo Fetzer University of Warwick, in the paper ‘Quantifying excess mortality among non COVID-19 patients in healthcare settings’ examined data from the NHS in England, and highlighted how the recent health emergency drastically increased demand and supply pressures faced by healthcare systems.

“We find that there is at least one additional preventable death among hospital patients seeking medical help for reasons unrelated to Covid for every 30 deaths that can be linked to COVID-19,” has says. In total, there were 4,003 such excess deaths during the first twelve months of the pandemic.

“At the healthcare provider level, the increase in non Covid excess deaths is sharply increasing pressures on hospitals at this present time,” adds Assistant Professor Christopher Rauh. “It is likely that in the coming years there will be further excess deaths arising from delayed care or detection of cancer or other diseases.”

This data is linked to official mortality registers capturing whether a patient died within 30 days of admission. The increase in mortality is driven, to a significant extent, by urgent care needs, such as heart attacks or gastrointestinal hemorrhage. This suggests that Covid induced hospital pressures are causing a notable increase in non Covid related excess deaths due to, likely, a worse quality and speed of care.

“As the world is moving to an equilibrium to live with the COVID-19 virus, it remains important to derive lessons learned from the pandemic not only for future pandemics, but also for the continuing pressures that arise. Healthcare systems were already facing chronic issues coming into the pandemic,” he says. “Our findings raise the question of how to deal with large scale infectious outbreaks in order to limit spillover effects. Our estimates are likely to constitute a lower bound given that many patients avoided visiting hospitals due to fear of becoming infected and thereby alleviated some congestion.”

The full research, part of the Janeway Institute Working Paper Series, is available at: