How each year of life saved from Covid-19 costs £180,000

How each year of life saved from Covid-19 costs £180,000: Statistician claims the price of rescuing a coronavirus patient is six times higher than the NHS threshold for other diseases

  • Debt is forecast to grow £550billion because of measures to save 3m life years
  • NHS watchdog’s usual threshold for good value is up to £30,000 per year of life
  • Statistician asks: ‘Are we saying that each Covid-19 victim is more worthy?’

The cost of adding one more year of life to someone who is dying of coronavirus is more than five times higher than the maximum the NHS can spend on other illnesses, according to a statistician.

Professor Simon Wood, from the University of Edinburgh, has calculated that it costs approximately £180,000 per extra year of life to rescue a dying Covid-19 patient.

Writing in The Spectator, Professor Wood said that decisions made by the Government may mean people catching the virus end up having considerably more money spent on them than others who will later die young as a result of lockdowns.

Generally, he said, the NHS watchdog will only spend up to £30,000 per year of life on any new treatment, deeming any higher cost a bad cost-to-benefit ratio.

But the purse strings have been loosed for Covid, Professor Wood said, and sufferers effectively deemed worthy of more money than people with other illnesses.  

Experts have repeatedly warned that many people left in worse physical or mental health, or in poverty, as a result of policies brought in to slow down Covid-19 could see years chopped off their life expectancy.

Official estimates of life-years saved by the Government’s expenditure, combined with results from a Scottish study in April, suggests 250,000 people could have died if the current lifesaving efforts had not been made. 

The Government has spent billions of pounds on preparing and equipping the NHS to cope with Covid-19, including opening new hospitals, buying ventilators, stockpiling drugs and ordering unprecedented amounts of personal protective equipment (Pictured: Nurses tend to a coronavirus patient in intensive care at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge in May)

Professor Wood calculated the approximate cost of adding one year of life to someone dying of coronavirus by looking at official debt forecasts.

The Office for Budget Responsibility predicted the UK’s national debt would grow by £550billion next year as a result of spending during the epidemic.

Spending does not only include that on medical procedures, but the Government is known to have spent billions of pounds on opening Nightingale Hospitals, renting out private hospital beds and buying equipment and clothing for NHS staff, for example.

Millions have also been pumped into clinical trials of drugs, research and development for vaccines and furlough schemes to keep people in work.

Professor Wood compares the £550billion with the Department of Health’s claim that three million years of life would have been lost if it hadn’t been spent.

Dividing the money by the life-years saved suggests each year of life costs £180,000, according to the Government.

Lockdown ‘could kill 75,000 over five years’ – that’s the OFFICIAL projection of non-COVID deaths

Nearly 75,000 people could die from non-Covid causes as a result of lockdown, according to devastating official figures buried in a 188-page document.

The startling research, presented to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), will further increase pressure on Boris Johnson to hold back on introducing further coronavirus restrictions.

The document reveals 16,000 people died as a result of the chaos in hospitals and care homes in March and April alone.

It estimates a further 26,000 will lose their lives within a year if people continue to stay away from A&E and the problems in social care persist.

And an additional 31,900 could die over the next five years as a result of missed cancer diagnoses, cancelled operations and the health impacts of a recession.

The toll of deaths directly linked to the virus last night stood at 41,936.

The estimates, drawn up by civil servants at the Department of Health, the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office, were presented to Sage at a meeting on July 15. 

The documents stressed that had nothing been done to stop the spread of the virus in March, 400,000 people could have died of Covid.

And if the NHS had been overrun, this figure might have even soared to 1.4million. But they acknowledged the restrictions had significant unintended consequences. 

By contrast, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which makes decisions on which drugs are good value for the NHS, considers £30,000 to be at the upper end of its good value limit, Professor Wood said.

He wrote: ‘These costs [£550bn expenditure] would be in line with the usual NICE threshold only if we had faced a 20million life year loss. 

‘That would have required a disease as deadly as the 1918 influenza, which, barring the possibility of future lethal mutation, Covid-19 is not. 

‘Meanwhile, the usual NICE threshold remains for other conditions. 

‘Just a few months ago, funding for Dupixent, a drug proven effective at cutting asthma attacks, was rejected for regular NHS funding on the grounds that it was too expensive. 

‘So are we effectively saying that each Covid-19 victim is more worthy of saving than six or seven victims of other diseases?’

Professor Wood argued that investing the same amount of money or less in improving life expectancy for poorer people, who live significantly shorter lives than the wealthiest in British society, could have saved far more lives.

He added: ‘At the start of the pandemic there was arguably no time for such calculations. 

‘But as we face what is described as a second wave, it is surely time to give more attention to the indirect effects of lockdown, the inevitable trade-offs, and how best to act in a way that saves the most life from all causes.’

Considering Professor Wood’s calculations in line with a study from earlier in the year suggests that some 250,000 people could have died if the Government had not spent so much money fighting Covid-19.

Research by Public Health Scotland and the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh – although not known to have included Professor Wood – suggested Covid-19 was robbing victims of around 12 years of their lives.

The study was published in April as the first peak of the epidemic was coming to an end and it found men who died of Covid-19 were losing, on average, 13 years of their lives, while women had 11 years cut off their life expectancy. 

Using a middle-ground of 12 years suggests the three million years of life that the Department of Health says could have been lost would equate to some 250,000 people dying.

The prediction lines up with one made by the Imperial College London scientists whose research pressured Boris Johnson into starting lockdown in March.

A report published by the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, led by Professor Ferguson, predicted on March 16 that 510,000 people could die in the UK if no measures were taken to slow down the coronavirus. It added that even just social distancing measures could allow a quarter of a million people to die and overwhelm the NHS. Britain went into a total lockdown just days after the work was published

 Research by Public Health Scotland and the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh – although not known to have included Professor Wood – suggested Covid-19 was robbing victims of around 12 years of their lives

Work by Professor Neil Ferguson and his colleagues predicted in the spring that 250,000 people could die if there was no stay-at-home order given.

The team said that NHS hospitals would be overwhelmed ‘eight times over’ and a quarter of a million people could have been killed by Covid-19.

Just days later, Mr Johnson held the seminal TV briefing announced the country was shutting down in a bid to stop the virus spreading any further.

As it stands, between 40,000 and 60,000 people have died of the virus in the UK.

The Department of Health says 42,202 people have died within 28 days of officially testing positive.

Statistical organisations across the UK, meanwhile, suggest that there have been around 59,000 ‘excess deaths’ during the epidemic, which includes people who died of Covid-19 but never tested positive, as well as those who died because of indirect effects of lockdown, such as being unable to get hospital care.

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