Flu and pneumonia deaths a quarter higher than usual in England and Wales

Figures for December up on typical year but overall mortality rate for 2022 below average, latest data shows

Almost 3,000 people died in England and Wales due to pneumonia and influenza in December, a quarter higher than in a typical year, in what is expected to be the worst flu season in a decade.

Flu and pneumonia were the leading cause of “excess death” in England in December with 574 extra deaths, 26% above the average, while flu deaths in Wales were 11% higher and the fourth most common cause of death that month.

Despite this, full-year figures for 2022 show the mortality rate fell below average for the first time since the Covid pandemic reached the UK in early 2020, with fewer people dying across the two countries last year when age and the size of the population was taken into account. Just 4% of deaths had Covid as the primary cause last year, compared with 11% in 2021.

The data also shows that 14% more people died in households last year than is typical, indicating the increase in home deaths that took place during the Covid pandemic is continuing. There were 2% fewer deaths in hospitals and only 0.3% more deaths in care homes.

More than 576,000 people died in 2022, an increase of 6% compared with the five-year-average – 2020 was excluded because of an atypically high number of deaths as a result of Covid – the latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows.

But, when the size and the age structure of the population (the age-standardised mortality rate) is considered there were 0.7% fewer deaths in England and 1.1% fewer in Wales than the average, giving 2022 the third lowest rate since 2001.


Weekly surveillance reports published by the UK Health Security Agency show flu infections reached a three-year-high this winter.

There are, however, signs that a spike in flu cases has now peaked: the latest NHS England figures showed a 35% drop in the number of beds required for flu patients in the second week of 2023 – the first significant drop in the winter to date. However, the number of 3,447 beds is still 84 times higher than in the same week in 2022.

The number of critical care beds occupied by flu patients also fell slightly to an average of 221 beds in the week to 15 January. This was higher than the number required for Covid patients in the same week (191) as a combination of the prevalence of the Omicron variant of Covid and the success of the vaccine rollout has made contracting the virus generally less dangerous than it once was.

Separate figures released by the ONS earlier in the week showed there were 1,383 deaths due to flu and pneumonia (as opposed to the virus/infection being a secondary cause of death) during the first week of January, the highest figure in three years.

Friday’s figures show the number of excess deaths was above average in December using both metrics. There were almost 6,400 more people dying in the last month of the year than expected, up by 14% compared with the average of the last five years (5.8% up in England and 9.4% up in Wales using the age-standardised mortality rate).

NHS figures show that about one in seven beds across England were occupied with Covid or flu patients at the beginning of January, with as many as one in five beds in some trusts. Bed occupancy rates were very high in most of the trusts, while a lack of social care beds meant about 14,000 beds were occupied with patients medically fit to be discharged.

Some of England’s hospital trusts have more than two in five beds with a patient with Covid or influenza or someone who could be discharged to home or a care home.

The figures are still small compared with the height of the pandemic, but it gives an indication of how sick some people are getting as a result of the viruses this winter.


Carmen Aguilar García and Pamela Duncan

The GuardianTramp

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