England, Wales and Scotland had among the highest rate of deaths from all causes among 21 industrialised countries during the first wave of the pandemic, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.
Researchers used statistical models to estimate the ‘normal’ level of deaths that would have occurred in these nations without the pandemic, between mid-February and the end of May, taking into account a host of factors including temperature and other seasonal fluctuations, and general short-term and long-term trends. These normal levels were compared to actual deaths.
Between mid-February and end of May, 206,000 more people died from all causes in these 21 countries than would have been expected had the pandemic not taken place. This amounts to an 18 per cent increase in deaths over this period in these countries combined, more than twice the number of deaths from diabetes or breast cancer expected in an entire year.
England and Wales accounted for 28 per cent of excess deaths across all countries combined, while Italy accounted for 24 per cent and Spain 22 per cent.
England and Wales and Spain experienced around 100 excess deaths per 100,000 people, a 37 per relative increase in England and Wales.
The 21 countries in the analysis were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
England and Wales, together with Sweden (the only country that did not put in place a mandatory lockdown and only used voluntary social distancing measures), had the longest durations of excess mortality.
Nations with the highest excess deaths in the study period were also typically those who had a lower investment in their health systems and health protection. For instance, Austria, which had very low numbers of deaths from all causes, has nearly three times the number of hospital beds per head of population than the UK.
Lead author, Dr Vasilis Kontis, from Imperial College London said: “The pandemic has affected people’s lives and health in so many ways. For instance, some people may have had an operation or treatment delayed, or might have lost the support they need with their day to day medical needs. Taking these factors into account, looking at deaths from COVID-19 infection alone is too limited; looking at deaths from all causes allows us to better understand how well countries handled the pandemic, and how well they have supported their people during lockdown measures.”