Why are more people dying? Academics are baffled by 20,000 extra deaths in England and Wales

By Connor Boyd and Nick Enoch for MailOnline 15:52 12 May 2018, updated 19:50 12 May 2018

Shocking statistics reveal that more than 20,000 'additional deaths' have occurred in England and Wales in the first 16 weeks of this year. 

Academics remain baffled by the spike in fatalities, which prompted several to demand a Government investigation into the matter.

However, some statisticians believe the crisis engulfing the NHS and cuts in care, along with the killer winter flu outbreak, are factors that should be taken into consideration. 

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, showed there were 20,215 more deaths in the first 16 weeks of 2018 compared to the previous five years - namely, 198,943 compared to an average of 178,778.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed there were 20,215 more deaths in England and Wales in the first sixteen weeks of the year, compared to the previous five years

The numbers show a 11.3 per cent increase in mortality. 

The 20,215 figure is equivalent to an extra person dropping dead every eight minutes throughout the first 16 weeks of the year, The Telegraph reported. 

Statisticians claimed in February that the killer winter flu outbreak was to blame for a 42 per cent spike in deaths across England and Wales.

Government figures revealed 64,157 people died in January - significantly higher than the death toll of 45,141 recorded in December.

Professor Danny Dorling of the University of Oxford is calling for an investigation by the House of Commons into the worrying trend

This was the highest number since records began in 2006 - and only the second time it had breached 60,000.

'Circulating influenza' was blamed in a report compiled using data of deaths from each region.

It showed deaths were higher than levels recorded during the Swine flu pandemic in 2010 - considered the worst outbreak in recent years.

The ONS report showed a similar trend in deaths was seen in all nine regions of England and Wales itself.

It read: 'Circulating influenza is likely to be a contributing factor in the high number of deaths registered in January 2018.'

Some 10,011 deaths were recorded in the South East, followed by 8,625 in the North West and 7,110 in the East of England.

At the other end of the scale, 3,503 people died in the North East in January, 3,945 in Wales and 5,401 in the East Midlands.

Figures in February showed the flu outbreak killed at least 271 people, but this is likely to have been an underestimate because it only counted for confirmed hospital deaths. 

In March, top academics published an editorial for the British Medial Journal voicing concerns about the spike in deaths. 

One of its authors Professor Danny Dorling, of the University of Oxford, told The Daily Telegraph: 'We would like is an urgent investigation by the House of Commons health select committee.

'The Department of Health and Social Care is not taking the slowdown in improvements in mortality seriously.' 

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson told the paper: 'We keep all research in this area under review, but the "age standardised mortality rate" - which had been broadly stable in recent years - is considered a much more reliable measure, as this type of research doesn't take into account fluctuations in population numbers and the ageing population.' 

Meanwhile, the NHS is lagging behind the rest of Europe's health care, new research suggests.

Out of the 21 countries analysed, the UK has fewer doctors and nurses than almost any other region, according to a UK study.

Previous research suggests there are around 100,000 healthcare-staff vacancies in the English NHS, with nearly half of nurses believing shortages prevent them doing their jobs well.

Only Denmark and Sweden have fewer hospital beds than Britain, which is also lagging behind all other European countries in terms of investment in healthcare technologies, such as MRI scanners.

The Care Quality Commission has said the NHS is ‘straining at the seams’ with more than 90 per cent of hospital beds being occupied, which is far higher than the 85 per cent recommended level for safe and efficient care.

Results further suggest the UK spends just 9.7 per cent of its national wealth on healthcare, which is substantially less than the minimum 11 per cent in Germany, France and Sweden.

At the beginning of the year, NHS chiefs demanded radical action to free up beds and medical staff due to casualty units being under 'extreme and sustained' pressure with flu cases, with at least 306 related deaths, according to Public Health England.