Deaths due to disrupted medical care quadrupled during the first lockdown, according to a study.
Oxford University hospitals investigators looked at 1,100 autopsies from seven areas of England for fatalities from a ‘potentially treatable condition’.
These were deaths where patients had struggled to access medical care, or died after being told to self-isolate.
A total of 44 out of 602 deaths (7.3 per cent) were put down to these issues during the first lockdown.
They included an asthma patient died after being told to self-isolate because they were experiencing chest pain, similar to Covid symptoms.
And a young diabetic patient who died from complications related to their condition after being told to stay at home because they had a fever and were vomiting.
For comparison, 10 out of 498 deaths (2 per cent) were put down to this two years beforehand.
Investigators warned of a ‘significant increase’ in deaths linked to trouble accessing medical care, and said many of these patients would normally have gone to hospital.
Responding to the study, MPs said it was clear the country will be ‘living with’ the side-effects of the Covid pandemic for many years.
Experts have repeatedly raised concerns lockdowns would trigger an uptick in deaths due to non-Covid causes, but this is believed to be the first study to confirm a link looking at autopsy reports.
In the study, people who died were about 68 years old and the majority were men (66 per cent).
Deaths were from between March to May for both years and were recorded in rural and urban areas of England including Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Newcastle and parts of London.
England does not routinely record the number of fatalities likely down to disruption accessing medical care.
Long Covid sufferers have hidden damage to their lungs, study says
Long Covid sufferers may have hidden lung damage, a small study in the UK has suggested.
Scientists supported by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre used a xenon gas scan to pick up abnormalities in the lungs of those suffering from breathlessness after having Covid.
The study uses the odourless, colourless, tasteless and chemically non-reactive gas, to investigate possible lung damage in the patients who have not been admitted to hospital, but continue to experience the symptom.
The initial results of the study suggest there is significantly impaired gas transfer from the lungs to the bloodstream in the long Covid patients despite other tests – including CT scans – coming back as normal.
A larger study has been commissioned to confirm the results of this small sample.
Lead researcher Dr Emily Fraser told the BBC the study had been borne out of frustration of medical professionals who could not find clinical reasons for the breathlessness using X-rays and CT scans.
Dr Fraser said: ‘This is important research and I really do hope this will shed more light on that.
‘It is important people know that rehabilitation strategies and breathing retraining can be really helpful.
‘When we see people in clinic who are breathless we can make progress.’
But in this study investigators aimed to determine how many would fall into this category by looking through autopsy reports.
These include testimonies from families, doctors and medical notes showing why the person had died.
Some deaths were marked as ‘probably’ down to problems accessing healthcare, including those where lockdown ‘prevented access’ or where a patient ‘was advised to self-isolate, subsequently dying from a potentially treatable condition’.
And others were marked as ‘possibly’ down to this, where a patient did not attend hospital for a ‘potentially treatable condition’ but it was not clear why they did not seek professional care.
NHS chiefs urged the public to return to hospitals during the first lockdown, after seeing a drop off in admissions for non-Covid conditions — like cancer.
A total of 23 fatalities were marked as ‘probably’ down to issues accessing healthcare, and 21 ‘possibly’ due to this in 2020.
For comparison, investigators marked five deaths in both these categories for the three months checked in 2018.
Investigators also found a number of suicides and drug/alcohol related deaths linked to lockdowns, although they said this was not a significant rise.
For suicides there were 27 fatalities for three months in 2018 (5 per cent of the total), but 38 over the same period in 2020 (6 per cent of the total).
For drug/alcohol related deaths, there were 29 in 2018 (6 per cent), but a total of 49 in 2020 (8 per cent).
A total of 54 deaths (9 per cent) studied were also linked to Covid during the first lockdown.
Professor Ian Roberts, a pathologist at Oxford University hospitals who led the study, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘I think it’s clear from our study that the excess deaths during the Covid lockdown is at least in part due to reduced access to medical care.’
Asked what triggered the study, he said it was down to experiences on wards during the first wave of the pandemic.
‘I found myself doing a number of autopsies where the deceased had contacted medical services with symptoms related to their death,’ he said.
‘But instead of being admitted to hospital, which they normally would have been, they were told to self-isolate at home and didn’t have any access to care.’
Conservative MP and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group Steve Baker said England will ‘be living with the health side effects of lockdown for many years’.
He warned: ‘The Government should be running through a checklist of every implication of lockdowns and restrictions, and ensure they’re worth the inevitable costs.’
Experts have repeatedly warned of the ‘appalling costs’ of imposing lockdowns on nation’s — including disruption to education, the economy and healthcare.
Following the first stay-at-home orders the NHS waiting list has spiralled to a record-high with more than 6million people now waiting for care.
Children have missed months of face-to-face lessons, for some coming just before major exams.
And many high street shops have also closed their doors.