Trying to bargain away the excess deaths problem

On the way to acceptance

Politicians fancied themselves as heroes in 2020. They were saving lives. Having played doctor with the population they are now being shown the fallout and it is not pretty. They are working through the stages of grief. 

Stage 1 — Denial

The covid death count was all that mattered in 2020. Daily updates were given on the news. Yet, in 2023, it was impossible to get those in power to acknowledge concerning mortality data. Andrew Bridgen has repeatedly requested a debate since February 2023. 26 times he asked and he was rejected 26 times. He was stonewalled for nine whole months. He succeeded in giving a speech in an adjournment debate on 29th October 2023 during which the BBC, in breach of its legal and ethical broadcasting duties, added pro-vaccine mantras as annotations. There followed a three hour Westminster Hall debate on 16th of January where numerous engaged politicians all agreed that a full debate in the chamber was warranted — it is feared that debating time is unlikely to be allocated. 

Stage 2 — Anger

Whenever Andrew Bridgen mentions the problem in the House of Commons, which he has slipped into proceedings numerous times now, many of his peers seem to be hissing with venom. He is far from the only politician raising concerns, and the last debate was supported by 22 MPs representing not only Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives but there was also strong support from the DUP and the Scottish Alba party. Philip Davies made a particularly erudite speech on the issue just last week to a handful of MPs attending a debate on cardiac deaths. The anger only seems to show when there’s a crowd in which to hide.

Stage 3 — Bargaining

When people grieve they often use a coping mechanism to help with their powerlessness and desire for the pain of the loss to be mitigated or reversed.

Australia took a bold approach. In 2021, they expected weekly deaths to range between 2,500 and 3,000 depending on the time of year. It was clear there was a problem with excess death which began before the first major covid wave. Their statistics authority brazenly lifted the expected deaths figure for 2022 to between 3,000 and 3,500 a week — a 16-20% increase. However, they made no change at all in the expectation between 2022 and 2023. The Australian approach to hiding the problem was simple because at no point did they want to claim there had been significant loss of life thanks to a novel virus — they wanted to claim that their “fortress Australia” approach had “kept the virus out”. 

The same, of course, is not true for the UK, which has a different challenge. As well as wanting to hide excess deaths caused by policy, perversely, having had excess deaths helps them justify the policies. Trying to create that illusion has required some imaginative modelling which results in death expectations jumping up and down like a yo-yo. To create this contortion the modelling double counted the demographic changes and fed increases in mortality trends back into the expectations. The result is a hot mess with claims of a massively increased mortality rate for young people in 2022 and 2023 with no decent explanation to justify this.

Figure 1: ONS expected deaths estimates showing smooth predictions of old methodology (black dotted line) compared to jumping estimates using modelling methodology (red line) and actual deaths (grey bars). Note y axis starts at 500,000.

For a time the politicians can live in their fantasy world as they have ensured that not just ONS but also a smaller agency publishing revealing mortality data, The Office of Health Improvement and Disparities, have moved to the exact same unjustified methodology. However their bubble will have to burst as we shall see.

Stage 4 — Depression

The bargaining stage of grief is as delusional as the denial stage. Ultimately reality and truth cannot be run away from. When reality hits, the MPs who so wanted to be heroes are going to be hit with a severe case of depression. Their pathological optimism and bold action was hugely harmful to a vast number of people and they are directly responsible for that.

Stage 5 — Acceptance

Acceptance will have to come. No amount of pretending can change what is really happening. Mortality can be mapped onto an age standardised population to show trends over time, and to compare countries with each other. Such a comparison shows the Western world currently has a serious problem. Furthermore, these aren’t any old deaths. The excess is an excess of predominantly cardiovascular deaths. Unless politicians can come up with a reason for why people should no longer be expected to die of other causes, but instead should be expected to die of (in the main) cardiovascular causes, then the data will keep popping up to discredit their lies.

Grief is a very hard journey to travel but at least we are at stage 3 now.

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