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‘Too early’ to know full impact of pandemic on excess deaths, say MSPs

The Covid-19 Recovery Committee held a short inquiry into excess deaths (Jane Barlow/PA)
The Covid-19 Recovery Committee held a short inquiry into excess deaths (Jane Barlow/PA)

It is “too early” to know the full impact of the pandemic on excess deaths, a Holyrood committee has said.

Recent statistics published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) show 12,314 excess deaths – deaths above the five year average – since the beginning of the pandemic.

In a letter to the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, Siobhian Brown, the convener of the Covid-19 Recovery Committee, urged the Scottish Government to rapidly improve data collection to gather more information on the number of excess deaths caused by the pandemic directly or indirectly.

During a short inquiry by the committee, witnesses warned the impacts of Covid-19 could be felt in coming years.

“Looking forward, the committee was informed that longer term excess deaths are likely to be caused by indirect harms from the virus,” Ms Brown wrote.

“For example, initially, at the outset of the pandemic, unemployment which is associated with increases in mortality, rose considerably. Increased educational inequalities are likely to increase inequalities in life expectancy.

“Witnesses said that not enough data on primary care was collected, particularly on those patients who attend repeat consultations, which could help to understand better the causes of excess deaths.

“In addition, the committee heard it was not possible to ascertain the actual relationship between waiting lists and excess deaths as this data is not currently held.”

Ms Brown went on to urge the Scottish Government to encourage patients who have not yet sought screenings for cancer to come forward, in an effort to prevent them from presenting with more severe cases.

The convener said: “Our inquiry has highlighted the critical need for improved data collection by the Scottish Government if we are to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on excess deaths in Scotland.

“Although it is too early to analyse the full extent of the pandemic on excess deaths at this point, and we recognise the complexity of this work, it is critical that steps are taken now so that a thorough and detailed analysis of the pandemic’s impact on excess deaths can be made in years to come.

“We are very aware that the statistics provided to us during the inquiry are not abstract numbers. Each of these represent the end of life for real people, and we are very cognisant of that.”

“The committee also asks the Scottish Government to set out how best to promote and encourage use of NHS services for non-Covid conditions and how GP services should be delivered in the future.

“This should explain what role hybrid working will play in primary care to support NHS recovery.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Every death during this pandemic is a tragedy and our thoughts and condolences are with all those who have lost a loved one.

“As we recover as a society, we will ensure the necessary resources are directed at addressing health inequalities and their underlying causes.

“We are reviewing the committee’s findings and will respond to the letter in due course.

“As part of this, we will continue to work closely with our analytical partners Public Health Scotland and National Records of Scotland to understand the wider impact of Covid-19 on Scotland’s population.”

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