The national lockdown may have indirectly caused 16,000 excess deaths in two months, according to government analysts.
The new report says a reluctance to attend A&E and difficulties accessing medical assistance likely meant that for every three deaths from coronavirus itself, a further two occurred because of the wider impact of the lockdown.
The findings provide a possible explanation for the prime minister’s recent claim that another full national lockdown would only be considered as a “nuclear option”.
The estimates, made by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and analysts from several government departments, suggest there were 38,500 excess deaths in England connected to COVID-19 between March and 1 May.
However, the report concludes 41% of those deaths were the result of missed medical care rather than the virus itself.
Of the 16,000 deaths, the paper estimates 6,000 were as a result of a “significant reduction in A&E attendances and emergency admissions”.
It states: “Some of this is unmet need, possibly due to patients’ reluctance to seek medical attention or other changes to protocols.”
The report says the other 10,000 excess deaths likely occurred in care home settings due to patients having been discharged from hospitals, or not wanting to be transferred to hospital.
Although the calculations found that 2,500 lives may have been saved by people adopting healthier lifestyles during lockdown, the modelling suggests there could be a further 26,000 excess deaths by March 2021 as a result of ongoing restrictions to medical care.
Overall the analysis estimates there could be a total of 81,500 non-coronavirus excess deaths over the next 50 years as a result of longer waiting times for non-urgent elective care, as well as increased deprivation resulting from a deep recession.
The document was presented to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) last month, but was only released on Friday.