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UK health rates lagging behind

Published on 05 March 2013 11:30 AM

The UK is falling behind other countries when it comes to preventing health problems such as heart disease and stroke, according to new research.

Although average life expectancy has risen by 4 years since 1990, the UK has a worse record of premature death than many other nations, with a large rise in the number of deaths related to Alzheimer's disease a particular concern.

International health data collected over 20 years was compared with figures from 18 other countries in the research, which was published in medical journal The Lancet.

Between 1990 and 2010, average life expectancy increased by 4.2 years in the UK to 79.9 years. But the premature death rate had hardly changed for both men and women aged 20-54. Heart disease, cancers and chronic lung disease were among the leading causes.

These types of illness are linked to avoidable risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, which are still too commonplace in the UK, according to Chris Murray, from the University of Washington in the US, which carried out the analysis of global data alongside experts from a number of other institutions.

UK is slipping down the health league table

In 1990 the UK ranked 10th in a league table of 19 countries showing years of life lost (YLL) per 100,000 members of the population. YLL is a standard method of measuring levels of premature death. 20 years later Britain had slipped to 14th in the table, with only 5 countries showing worse figures.

The statistics were drawn from the Global Burden of Disease Study, with results covering 259 diseases and injuries as well as 67 risk factors or risk factor clusters.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said up to 30,000 lives a year could be saved if the UK performed as well as its European neighbours. He is urging more people to go for regular health checks to spot diseases earlier and wants NHS services to be better connected so patients do not get lost in the system.

'For too long we have been lagging behind and I want the reformed health system to take up this challenge and turn this shocking underperformance around,' he said.

Public Health England, a new division of the Department of Health that will come into force in April 2013 along with the NHS organisational reforms, called the report a wake-up call.

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer, said: 'Despite some enviable recent success, for example on smoking, we in the UK need to take a hard look at what can be done to help people in the UK achieve the levels of health already enjoyed by other some countries.'

Older people denied access to treatment due to stereotypes about old age

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's Charity Director General, pointed out that too often older people are deprived of the treatment and care they need and deserve simply because of their age.

Ms Mitchell commented, 'Consciously or not, doctors and nurses are unacceptably relying on false stereotypes about older age rather than properly assessing patients' health. The consequence is despite many older people's urgent need for cancer treatment, hip replacement and hernia operations, access to this kind of treatment sharply declines around the age of 70.

'With a rapidly ageing population, it's more important than ever that the UK's latent acceptance of age discrimination in the NHS stops. It is unacceptable and must be replaced by treatment based on considered assessment.'

Copyright Press Association 2013

Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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