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Faculty of Economics

New evidence of the long and short term impacts of the pandemic on non-Covid-related healthcare shows that at least 4,000 avoidable non-Covid deaths, and 32,000 missing cancer patients.


Dr Christopher Rauh

Delays to cancer referrals and treatment times have led to an estimated 32,000 missing cancer patients that should have already started receiving treatment. Meanwhile, pandemic pressures have adversely affected the quality of care received by non-Covid patients resulting in at least 4,000 additional deaths that could otherwise have been avoided in England.

Research by Dr Christopher Rauh from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Thiemo Fetzer from the University of Warwick measures the short- and long-term impacts of these challenges on non-Covid-related healthcare services in England.

Dr Rauh says “our work highlights the importance of both staff absence rates and the vaccination of critical healthcare staff. It is clear that during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals and policymakers were faced with tough choices to delay or cancel some hospital services including cancer treatments. The huge influx of Covid-19 patients during the worst waves of the pandemic also affected the quality of treatment for non-Covid-related emergency care.”

In the short term, the Covid crisis led to significantly poorer access to and quality of healthcare, and patients seeking non-Covid-19 emergency care, for example for heart attacks, saw a notably higher risk of death. Also, the increase in non-Covid-19 mortality risk was significantly larger among NHS providers that were particularly under pressure from increases in Covid-19 admissions.

“The risks Covid-19 poses for healthcare services go significantly beyond individual infection and spread,” adds Dr Rauh. “We find that infections have led to higher staff absence rates which have a negative effect on the accessibility and quality of healthcare services. This along with increased pressures due to high numbers of admissions has led to the avoidable loss of lives both in the short as well as the long run, for example, due to worse cancer care. These risks could be pre-empted by promoting vaccinations or increasing staffing levels.”


Hospital Pressures


The joint authors of the research, published by the Cage Research Centre, shows that for every 30 deaths directly caused by Covid-19, there is at least one non-Covid death that could have been avoided had the NHS been able to operate as it had been before the pandemic. From March 2020 to February 2021 alone, there were an estimated 4,000 excess deaths among patients admitted to hospital for non-Covid reasons in England.

He says “these deaths could have been avoided had the patients received the quality of care that the NHS provides in normal times.”

The evidence is drawn from NHS data on A&E waiting times, referrals and mortality rates. The researchers also analyse evidence of NHS staff sickness and absence, vaccination rates and the number of Covid cases in the local community.

Full details of the research:






Public Health


Excess deaths