Australia has seen a spike in its mortality rates in 2022, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) stating that by the end of August 2022, 128,797 deaths had been registered, which is 18,671 deaths, or 17 percent, more than the historical average.
In the data release on Nov. 25, the ABS noted that of registered deaths; there had been a rise in the number of Australians dying from dementia (18.9 percent above the baseline average), diabetes (20.8 percent higher than the baseline average), cancer, and COVID-19.
Karen Cutter, a spokesperson for the Actuaries Institute of Australia (AIA) said in a media release (pdf) that even after the Institute’s COVID-19 Mortality Working Group removed all “from” and “with” COVID-19 deaths, it was not clear why Australians were dying in larger numbers from other diseases such as ischaemic heart disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease in 2021 and 2022.
In an analysis (pdf) from Nov. 3, the AIA noted that 1,200 more Australians had died from ischaemic heart disease than expected, while cerebrovascular disease had 450 more deaths than normal. Meanwhile, mortality rates from diabetes increased by 400 deaths, and dementia saw an extra 800 deaths.
According to the ABS, between January and August this year, 7,727 Australians died from COVID-19.
“It is not clear what might be driving this, although we expect that at least part of the excess will be in respect of people who otherwise may have succumbed to respiratory disease in 2020 and 2021,” said Cutter.
They also said that diabetes deaths have generally been higher than expected throughout the pandemic.
Cutter noted that the AIA had also noticed that of the excess deaths in the 0-44 and 45-64 age bands were small, and the number of women dying was higher than expected.
She has called on the federal government to launch an inquiry into the cause of the spike.
“The differences are worth investigation, although the small numbers mean that there is considerable natural variation,” she said.
Spiking Mortality Rates a Global Phenomenon
The spike in mortality rates is being experienced globally, with the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, as well as Sir Patrick Vallance, the country’s Chief Scientific Adviser, declaring the country is facing a “prolonged period” of excess deaths after people differed treatment during the initial stages of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the UK’s health secretary Steve Barclay said that the government needed to come clean about the excess deaths.
In a speech to the Spectator Health Summit in London on Nov. 28, Barclay said that the government must share the scale of the COVID backlog, which he estimated was now “around now 7.1 million patients.”
“We know from the data that there are more 50-to 64-year olds with cardiovascular issues. It’s the result of delays in that age group seeing a GP because of the pandemic and, in some cases, not getting statins for hypertension in time,” he said.
“When coupled with delays in ambulance times, we see this reflected in the excess death numbers. In time, we may well see a similar challenge in cancer data,” Barclay said.
COVID-19 Lingering Effects
The AIA agrees that delayed medical treatment may be a cause behind Australia’s rising death rate.
In an analysis of the pandemic in 2022, they said that it was highly likely that delays in medical care was a contributing factor to the excess death rates from other diseases.
“Pressure on the health, hospital and aged care systems, including ambulance ramping and bed block, could lead to people not getting the care they require, either as they avoid seeking help, or their care is not as timely as it might have been in pre-pandemic times,” they said.
“There is some evidence that this may be affecting cancer deaths. It may also be a factor in higher deaths from other causes, such as ischaemic heart disease, diabetes, and the large ‘other’ category.”
They also noted that COVID-19 lingering health effects could also be contributing to the increased rates.
Studies show that coronavirus is associated with increased mortality risks from heart disease and other causes. However, because doctors certifying the death would not necessarily know of the infection if it had occurred months prior, this could demonstrate a causative link several months after recovery from COVID-19.