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The King's Fund responds to the latest ONS mortality data

Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund commented on the Office of National Statistics (ONS) monthly mortality analysis December 2022 

‘The latest analysis of mortality from the ONS shows that the age-standardised mortality rate (ASMR)* for England in 2022 was lower than in most years since 2001, with the exception of 2019 and 2014. The ONS notes that, because mortality rates take into account changes in population size and age structure, excess mortality rates can be lower than excess deaths**. For example, in England, in December 2022, excess deaths were 13.5 per cent above the previous average, while the excess mortality rate was 5.8 per cent above average. And in 2022 overall, deaths were 6.3 per cent above average, whereas the ASMR was 0.7 per cent below average. 

‘However, these statistics should not lead to complacency. Mortality in 2022 should have fallen sharply after the heavy loss of life from Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021. Instead of which, it remains higher than in some pre-pandemic years, including 2019, the most recent. Moreover, since May 2022 the monthly ASMR has in fact been higher than the pre-pandemic average – a trend that shows no sign of abating. The outlook is therefore not promising. 

‘Halting and reversing this trend requires contributory drivers such as unmet health care needs during the pandemic and unprecedented pressures on NHS (especially emergency) services to be addressed urgently. The ONS analysis shows that the major causes of excess mortality were ill-defined conditions (reflecting mainly deaths in frail, older people), including in deaths from Covid-19, and some cardiovascular diseases. Vaccination programmes should remain a priority as Covid-19 continues its relentless march, along with flu and pneumonia in recent weeks.  

‘Most European countries have also experienced excess deaths during 2022.[1] However, a recent ONS analysis showed that mortality in the UK during the pandemic was higher than in many western European countries.[2] This follows a pre-pandemic decade during which the UK’s life expectancy compared poorly with European peers, and also showed the least improvement.[3] Taken together with the worrying trends in mortality data for 2022, this suggests that the UK could slide further down the life expectancy league table of peers.’

Notes to editors

* ASMRs are a more reliable measure of mortality levels than excess deaths because they adjust for changes in the size and age structure of the population, which can affect the number of deaths even if there is no change in the rate at which people die. Furthermore, estimates of excess deaths can differ depending on the baseline against which current numbers of deaths are compared.

** The ONS uses the average of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021 as the baseline for calculating excess deaths and mortality in 2022.

1.    Excess mortality - statistics - Statistics Explained (
2.    Comparisons of all-cause mortality between European countries and regions - Office for National Statistics
3.    What is happening to life expectancy in England? | The King's Fund (

For more information or interview request, please contact The King's Fund media team on 07584 146035 or 

The King’s Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organizations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible care is available to all. 

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