4:40pm Wednesday 14th August 2013
By Tarik Al Rasheed
AN unexplained rise in the number of deaths among older people has seen local health chiefs pledge to do all they can to ensure the wellbeing of an increasingly elderly population.
A new report shows that across England and Wales, 600 more people died each week last year than the average. About 10,000 people die a week normally, but last year’s figures were about five per cent higher than usual. The increase has been highest in the elderly, particularly those over 80.
The report, produced by Public Health England and obtained and published by the Health Service Journal, says relatively high death counts continued from January through to the end of April this year before dropping throughout May and June. Latest death counts are in line with expectation but the total number of deaths in the first 26 weeks of 2013 are “higher than any previous recent year”.
The increase has not been explained although factors such as flu, a levelling off of life expectancy, council cuts and pressures on hospitals and emergency care have all been suggested as possible contributors.
It is yet to be seen if the national trend is repeating itself in Worcester. But leaders at South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which decides how a health budget of £312 million should be spent, say they are “committed to improving the health and well-being” of the population.
A spokesman said meeting the challenges of a growing elderly population and lifestyle-related issues such as obesity and alcohol abuse are key elements of its upcoming five-year strategy.
“We know that health indicators vary across South Worcestershire, for example life expectancy is lower in areas of deprivation,” they said. “We will tackle this issue and address the health needs of a growing elderly population through prevention techniques, early diagnosis and treatment of those most at risk of serious health illness. This will include the uptake of NHS Health checks for people aged between 40-75 years and supporting early diagnosis through proactive health awareness raising and screening.”
Stuart Bourne, Worcestershire County Council’s head of health protection, said: “Despite any short-term fluctuation, the long-term trend in Worcestershire remains one of increasing life expectancy overall, albeit with disparities in specific sections of the population due to material disadvantage.”
He said the council is supporting and commissioning services “to address the biggest killers”.
“This includes tobacco control and stop smoking services to address heart disease, alcohol advice to reduce alcohol-related harm, and healthy lifestyle services to promote a healthy weight and physical activity.”
New county health watchdog Worcestershire Healthwatch is watching carefully and will ask questions if there has been any local increase in deaths.
Chairman Peter Pinfield said: “If we are following the national trend we would also expect to see an increase in the deaths as well.
“Healthwatch would want to raise any public concerns with the health and social care lead officers, see if there are any reasons, and more importantly learn from any lessons. Any change to the normal pattern and figures needs to be looked into.”
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