A lack of medical scans could have contributed to the exceptionally high level of excess mortality revealed in new official figures.
In 2022 over 650,000 deaths occurred, nine per cent more than the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. While there were more excess deaths in 2020 and 2021, Covid is the obvious explanation for those years. It was insufficient on its own, however, to explain the 2022 figures.
However, the pandemic may have had an indirect impact by reducing the number of medical appointments, screenings and diagnoses in these years, preventing many people from getting the urgent, life-saving treatment they needed.
While screenings may not have been cancelled, many patients will have been hesitant about coming forward for scans when infections were high and the NHS under severe strain.
The value of medical image sharing is that it enables the results of screenings to be easily accessed across different locations, which can have the benefit of enabling clinicians to provide the appropriate treatment for patients in a timely manner, often saving lives in the process. This is especially true for conditions like cancer.
An inability to access such images would be as bad as not having them in the first place, which can be the result of not having a scan to begin with – and it is apparent that the consequences of just such a scenario have played out with dire consequences for many patients over the past couple of years.
Of course, there are other factors that may have contributed to what was one of the highest excess death rates in the last half century. The wider strains on the NHS may be a factor, not least at the end of the year when the worst flu season in a decade struck, itself a likely indirect consequence of reduced immunity after Covid restrictions prevented flu spreading much over previous winters.
The hot summer also contributed with the highest excess deaths during heatwaves among over-65s since comparable records began in 2004. However, this accounted for only 2,803 of the overall total, making it a minor factor.