Cuts to health and social care budgets are to blame for 30,000 extra deaths in England and Wales during 2015, a new study claimed.
The excess deaths, representing the largest increase in deaths in the post-war period and included a large spike in January of that year, were largely in the elderly who are most dependent on health and social care.
Social care budgets have been slashed by more than a sixth - 17 per cent - at a time when the population of old and frail pensioners over 85 increased by nearly a tenth - nine per cent.
And to prevent these excess deaths a further £1 billion was needed
The British researchers looked at why there had been a substantial increase in death rates that year and said a meltdown in the NHS was the root cause.
The analysis by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council ruled out data errors, cold weather and flu as main causes for the spike.
Instead missed NHS targets including ambulance call-out times and casualty waiting times was the cause despite unexceptional A&E admissions compared to the same month in previous years.
Understaffing and absence rates also rose.
Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The impact of cuts resulting from the imposition of austerity on the NHS has been profound.
“Expenditure has failed to keep pace with demand and the situation has been exacerbated by dramatic reductions in the welfare budget of £16.7 billion and in social care spending.
“With an ageing population, the NHS is ever more dependent on a well-functioning social care system.
“Yet social care has also faced severe cuts, with a 17 per cent decrease in spending for older people since 2009, while the number of people aged 85 years and over has increased by 9 per cent.
“To maintain current levels of social care would require an extra £1.1 billion, which the government has refused.”
Professor McKee continued: “The possibility that the cuts to health and social care are implicated in almost 30,000 excess deaths is one that needs further exploration.
“Given the relentless nature of the cuts, and potential link to rising mortality, we ask why is the search for a cause not being pursued with more urgency?”
“Simply reorganising and consolidating existing urgent care systems or raising the ‘agility’ of the current A&E workforce capacity is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the challenges that high levels of admissions of frail elderly people and others who are vulnerable are likely to present this winter and in future winters.”
The researchers added there are already worrying signs of an increase in mortality in 2016 which will continue unless urgent action to reverse the cuts are not made.
Without urgent intervention, they say, there must be concern that this trend will continue.
Commenting on the analysis, Professor Danny Dorling, University of Oxford, added: “It may sound obvious that more elderly people will have died earlier as a result of government cut backs, but to date the number of deaths has not been estimated and the government have not admitted responsibility.”
The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine