Trends in excess deaths

The debate will consider trends in excess deaths. Excess deaths are typically measured as the difference between the observed number of deaths within a period compared with the five-year average.

Mortality data published over the last four years shows a general increase in excess deaths. For the quarter ending September 2023, the number of deaths in England and Wales was 2.1% above the five-year average.

We can adjust this data to reflect demographic changes in the growing and ageing population – the age-standardised mortality rate (ASMR). The ASMR was 4.7% below the five-year average in the quarter ending September 2023, in England and Wales.

The government has acknowledged an increase in the number of excess deaths in England and Wales and has attributed these to a combination of factors, such as the prevalence of heart disease, flu and heart disease.

The Library briefing, Trends in excess deaths, provides further discussion. 

The Covid-19 Inquiry

The debate will also consider the Covid-19 pandemic response.

In May 2021, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the UK Government would establish an independent public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The terms of reference to the Inquiry set out that the Inquiry would examine, consider and report on preparations and the response to the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

separate Inquiry is taking place in Scotland, which will evaluate areas where policy is devolved to the Scottish Government.

The Inquiry was established under the Inquiries Act 2005. Inquiries held under this Act have the power to compel the production of documents and call witnesses to give evidence. Further information is available in the Library briefing, Statutory public inquiries: the Inquiries Act 2005.

In December 2021, the UK Government appointed the Rt Hon Baroness Heather Hallett DBE as Chair to the inquiry.

Structure of the Inquiry

The Inquiry website provides information about the structure of the Inquiry, explaining that themes are grouped into modules focused on different aspects of the response to pandemic.

There is no set date for the Inquiry’s conclusion or final report, but public hearings are expected to continue until summer 2026. Baroness Hallett is expected to publish an initial report by summer 2024.

Vaccines and therapeutics

The debate will “call on the Covid-19 Inquiry to move onto its module four investigation into vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible”.

Module four of the Inquiry, on vaccines and therapeutics, will consider and make recommendations on issues relating to the development of Covid-19 vaccines and the implementation of the rollout programme in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The module will also address issues relating to vaccine safety.

The Inquiry plans to hear evidence for this module in January 2025. Hearings for module four were initially scheduled to be held during summer 2024. These were subsequently delayed to enable organisations to prioritise evidence for module three on the pandemic’s impact on healthcare systems.

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