Excess deaths 2022: Greater Manchester hit by winter deaths spike compared to pre-Covid years, data shows

There is also a stark north-south divide within the ONS figures.
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Greater Manchester has seen a spike in excess deaths over winter with more people dying in the coldest weeks of 2022 than for the five-year average preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, data shows.

Analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that all 10 boroughs in the city-region saw a higher-than-usual level of excess deaths this winter. The statistics as a whole also reveal a stark north-south divide, with significantly more excess deaths being recorded in the North and Midlands than in the South of England.

A Greater Manchester MP and shadow cabinet member said the disparity was “unconscionable”.

What does the data reveal for Greater Manchester?

The ONS statistics compare excess deaths for 2022 with the five-year average prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are figures for the last eight weeks of 2022, the last four weeks of last year and the final fortnight of the year. Across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester excess deaths were higher last year than in the previous average period being compared against for every time period measured.

There were some significant increases recorded across the city-region as well. In the final two weeks of the year Rochdale saw a 60.9% increase in excess deaths compared to the pre-Covid average while the rise in Trafford was 58.7%. In numerical terms the highest number of excess deaths was in Wigan with 55.8, a 46.4% increase from the pre-pandemic average.

In the final four weeks of the year there was an increase of 40.5% in excess deaths in 2022 compared to the pre-Covid period in Trafford and a rise of 39% in Rochdale. The highest numbers of excess deaths for this period were seen in Wigan with 86.4 and Bolton with 69.8.

The biggest increase in excess deaths over the eight-week period at the end of 2022 compared to the pre-pandemic five-year average was in Bury with a rise of 32.4%. This meant there were 88.8 excess deaths in the borough in that period. The highest figure recorded was 134.4 excess deaths in Wigan.

What does the data show nationally?

Analysis by the data team at NationalWorld has shown there is a significant disparity between different parts of the country, with considerably more additional deaths being recorded in the north than the south.

In the four weeks up to 30 December, deaths in the North as a whole were up by 20.6% compared to the pre-pandemic average, while in the South they were up by 14.7%. The gap is even wider if London is excluded, with deaths up by only 14.3% for the rest of the South.

The North West was particularly badly affected, with deaths up a whopping 22.3% compared to before the pandemic. In the Midlands, the figure was 18.9%.

Excess deaths have risen in Greater Manchester in 2022 compared to a five-year pre-Covid average. Photo: AdobeStockExcess deaths have risen in Greater Manchester in 2022 compared to a five-year pre-Covid average. Photo: AdobeStock
Excess deaths have risen in Greater Manchester in 2022 compared to a five-year pre-Covid average. Photo: AdobeStock

The same pattern can be seen for the eight-week data, while for the last two weeks of the year the Midlands had the highest percentage of additional deaths, followed by northern regions. There is a slight north-south divide for excess deaths throughout the whole of 2022, with the gap widening during the winter.

NationalWorld has compared the 2022 excess deaths with the five years between 2015 and 2019 to avoid any skewing of the figures due to the impact of Covid-19 not being felt equally across the country’s regions. The figures relate to the week deaths were registered.

What has been said about the data?

Concerns have been raised about the impact of the crisis currently facing the NHS on the public this winter. In December ManchesterWorld showed that hundreds of people were waiting for ambulances, with 100 stuck outside hospitals unable to hand their patients over to the care of medical experts.

That is not the only indication Greater Manchester’s health service is under pressure. Stats released in December showed that in the run-up to Christmas Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust had the highest level of staff sickness of any hospital trust in England, adding to the pressure already on the system. Flu cases have also surged this winter.

As well as the severe problems facing the NHS, health experts have suggested that long waiting lists for elective care, or people having put off coming forward over conditions such as heart problems during the pandemic, are also playing into the rise in deaths in 2022.

Chris Thomas, principal health fellow and head of the commission on health and prosperity at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), said existing regional health inequalities – and the greater strain on services that poorer health can cause – means that northern health systems can feel the strain particularly acutely at times of unprecedented demand.

People in northern regions have shorter life expectancies and live fewer years before developing disabilities or health problems compared to southern regions, according to figures from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow secretary for levelling up and MP for Wigan, said: “It is unconscionable that the North continues to suffer from such stark health inequalities. After Covid, when communities in the North were locked down for far longer than other parts of the country, tackling the problem is even more vital.”

Wigan MP Lisa NandyWigan MP Lisa Nandy
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy

Ms Nandy said Labour would launch a major scheme to train more health staff, paid for by abolishing non-dom tax status.

The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment. It pointed only to comments made by Health Secretary Steve Barclay in the House of Commons earlier this week when challenged on estimates from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) that between 300 and 500 people could be dying every week due to delays in emergency or urgent care. Mr Barclay said he had discussed the issue of excess deaths in detail with the chief medical officer and the medical director for NHS England, adding: “The point to note is this is something firstly that has happened internationally. It can’t be ascribed just to one issue as is so often the case.

“Some of the excess mortality will be due directly to Covid itself, albeit that will be a diminishing proportion, but it is also the case that some of the non-Covid excess mortality will be driven by quite a wide combination of factors. I think we have got to be quite cautious when those sort of numbers are bandied around.”