Scotland has seen the most significant annual rise in deaths since the Second World War, according to new analysis, amid warnings of a hidden crisis in elderly care.
Death rates in Scotland rose by 8.5 per cent last year, with health officials blaming a rise in respiratory and circulatory diseases for the increase.
Professor Danny Dorling, who advises Public Health England on old age life expectancy, said the rise in death rates was “unprecedented in peacetime” in an article due to be published in the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s magazine this week.
Nearly 58,000 people died in Scotland in 2015, compared to roughly 53,000 the year before, according to the figures calculated using official weekly death counts.
Prof Dorling, of Oxford University, said the Scottish rise was twice that of England and Wales, with elderly women representing the biggest section of the spike in mortality.
He said: “The rise in mortality in Scotland was foretold, and it could have been prevented. The crises to come this summer, when there are too few staff to cope, and in the winters to come could still be prevented, but not if those in power are not aware of the implications of their actions, or if some see the rise in early mortality as a price worth paying for the great economic good.”
Mortality rates have been falling for decades as medical advances allow people to live longer with serious conditions.
There are often fluctuations in the annual rate due to chance or a cold winter, but rarely more than 2 per cent either side, according to Prof Dorling.
He said: “Flu could be a part of it but I can’t find any evidence of this. Factors like cuts to social services, meals on wheels or visits to the elderly may well be contributing.”
An Age Scotland spokesperson said: “These deeply concerning figures require further research to investigate how such an alarming rise in mortality has occurred and why it has gone virtually unnoticed until now.”
Public health minister Aileen Campbell said the mortality rates could fluctuate significantly and Scotland’s figures were broadly in line with the rest of the UK.
She said: “January to March 2016 deaths have reduced by 6.6 per cent compared to 2015.
“Over a five-year period the seasonal increase in mortality in winter is at its second lowest level ever since records began. In addition, the latest hospital mortality figures, published earlier this year, show a drop of 16.5 per cent since recording began in 2007.”