Responding to reports in the Telegraph linking a rise in excess deaths with the last round of junior doctors’ strikes in England, Professor David Strain, BMA Board of Science chair, said:
“Any increase in excess deaths is a concern but it is wholly wrong to say that the strikes are the root cause; the two events might have happened at the same time, but correlation is not causation and any statistician worth their salt will confirm it is impossible and potentially dangerous to attribute the rise to a single cause. We have been concerned about preventable and excess deaths across the health and social care system for some time, which is one of the reasons why we are taking the action we are, in a bid to reverse the impact of sustained under-resourcing.
“What is clear is that these data have been used in a premature and highly selective manner to imply that the strikes caused the increase in the excess deaths. It also completely ignores the fact that there were no strikes in Wales, and yet the excess deaths were higher there than in England over the same period. This is frankly irresponsible. While the Government accuses the BMA or putting politics before patients, this analysis is playing politics with patients’ lives by wrongly linking excess deaths with industrial action, and being used to further undermine and attack junior doctors. It will require the data to be rigorously analysed to find the underlying causes of this increase in excess deaths across England and Wales and without such study it is impossible to say what impact the first round of strike action may or may not have had.
“The BMA can reassure patients that their safety remains an absolute priority and those who need lifesaving care will get it. During these strikes, consultants and SAS doctors have safely stepped in to cover urgent and emergency care. The BMA has a jointly agreed system with NHS England in place to ensure patient safety in the event of extreme and unforeseen circumstances. We met with NHS England four times per day during the strikes to monitor the situation in the first round and have the same system in place currently.”