UK 'fares badly in European health league table'

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The UK is lagging behind progress by similar countries on many indicators for ill-health, research suggests.

Health data over 20 years was compared with figures from 18 other countries in the research published in the Lancet.

Although average life expectancy has risen by four years since 1990, it says the UK needs to increase its strategies for tackling preventable problems such as heart disease and stroke.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he has a plan to address the lag.

The team of experts from the UK and the University of Washington in Seattle said the UK had a high burden of smoking-related illnesses, and greater priority should be given to reducing lung disease.

There was also a large rise in the number of recorded deaths related to Alzheimer's Disease.

Many deaths happen because the NHS is not good enough at preventing people getting sick or because treatment does not rival that seen elsewhere in Europe, says Mr Hunt who is responsible for health policy in England.

'Take up challenge'

He says up to 30,000 lives a year could be saved if England performed as well as its European neighbours.

Mr Hunt has announced plans to cut the death toll caused by the UK's five avoidable big killers - cancer, heart, stroke, respiratory and liver disease.

The big five avoidable killers

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Lung disease
  • Liver disease

He said: "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 wants more people to go for regular health checks to spot diseases earlier and he is calling better joining up of NHS services so that patients don't get lost in the system.

In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 that The Lancet study examined, average life expectancy increased by 4.2 years in the UK to 79.9 years.

But the premature death rate had hardly changed in the UK for both men and women aged 20-54.

Among the leading causes were heart disease, cancers and chronic lung disease.

These are linked to avoidable risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, which are still all too common in the UK, say Chris Murray, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, USA, and colleagues who carried out the analysis of global data.

But progress is being made on conditions like diabetes, where the UK appears to be ahead of many of its European neighbours and other high-income countries like the US and Canada.

'Bold action'

Prof Murray says the UK also faces fresh challenges, like its growing burden of disability from alcohol use and a 137% rise in deaths linked to Alzheimer's disease.

He and his team also acknowledged that making firm conclusions based on data from different countries was inherently problematic - not all record the same information and each has its own unique issues and policies that made interpretation and comparison difficult.

Leading UK health risk factors

  • Tobacco smoke (including second-hand smoke)
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Too little exercise
  • Alcohol use
  • Poor diet

Source: Global Burden of Disease project

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested people in the UK were living in good health for longer.

But the UK still measures up poorly compared with other countries - it ranked 12 out of the 19 countries in the Lancet study.

Britons have 68.6 years of healthy life, whereas people in top-ranked country, Spain, have 70.9 years of healthy life on average.

In an accompanying editorial in The Lancet, Edmund Jessop from the UK Faculty of Public Health in London said the UK had done very well in many areas of public health - it had stronger tobacco control than any other country in Europe, for example - but there was still "plenty of room for bold action by politicians".

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

Prof John Newton, chief knowledge officer of Public Health England, 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. Central and local government, charities, employers and retail businesses all have a part to play."

John Appleby, chief economist at The King's Fund, said: "Changes in health outcomes take place over many years, if not generations. The UK's health expenditure has increased significantly but has only recently caught up with the EU average so we may not yet be seeing the full effects of this additional spending."

Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne said the findings show how the current government is failing patients and the NHS.

How many healthy years will you live?

Ranking Country Years of healthy life Life expectancy














































































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  • rate this

    Comment number 1123.

    What i find odd is that this 'report' seems to place countries like Norway and Denmark,where wages are high,poverty is low and people are happy right at the bottom,while countries like Spain and Italy,where suicide is high,unemployment is rife,hospitals are closing and money is tight at the top. Im sorry,i cannot believe this survey. It seems faulty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1122.

    1119 bastiat
    You are kidding yourself. How you can believe in the teeth of evidence that taxation is what stops people giving to charity? The poorest give proportionally most to charity. The rich, when they give, give to things that benefit them in the main. You're like a marxist - communism has never been tried properly...
    And unsexy charities don't get donations now...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1121.

    Aren't you overreacting? UK is a bit more than 2 years away from Spain and has increased life expectancy by 4.2 years in the last two decades. That's not that bad!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1120.

    @ 53 David Pickles

    Well leave then? no one wants your moany mouth here. The climate HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH LIFE EXPECTANCY. If that were the case,why does Portugal have the same healthy year lifestyle as us? and you clearly have not lived in Italy to understand bad politicians. You Brits are the biggest pessimists in the world,why for once cant you just SHUT UP and stop being negative!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1119.

    Ask yourself:
    Do you care about the wellbeing of others?
    Would you help a person in real need?
    Do you donate to charity voluntarily?
    Would you donate much more if u weren't taxed so much?
    Do you think private charity is more effective than the NHS, and that's why you donate to it voluntarily instead of HMRC?

    If you answered yes to all of the above, you agree with Libertarians like me :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 1118.

    An example of market failure in insurance which would also be the case in healthcare, is house insurance (mandatory for mortgages) for those in areas recently deemed to be high flood risks. Those in low risk areas won't subsidise the premiums of those in high risk areas (the market ensures their premiums are lowest) leaving houses uninsurable and unsaleable unless the government intervenes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1117.

    4. Shoogly Peg
    'Make getting exercis accessible and affordable. Make getting access to nice countryside easier. Make fruit and veg far cheaper than junk food.'

    Well, fruit & veg are actually cheaper than junk food, and so is seafood (if you can cook).

    Running or walking costs nothing.

    More access to countryside? Are you kidding? Walking routes are everywhere, just stop moaning and google it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1116.

    I think the Brits are dying to help that dying trade 'the undertakers'! Well done for showing such great thought! This is WHY it is called Great Britain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1115.

    The rise of big supermarket chains and the rise of obesity are in my view closely linked. Bulking is the industry term I believe.

    I live in an EU country with small supermarkets and local shops. I do not smoke, I drink moderatley every day and eat well. I do not wear out my joints in the gym (future health/ repair costs avoided here) to remain fit and active. I avoid junk food like the plague.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1114.

    At six months after your 68th Birthday move to Spain. Sorted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1113.

    Anyone other than me actually -read- the NHS patients charter and realise what a sick joke it is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    "You seem unhappy, why don't you move..."
    I am happy. I won't succomb to ur lynch mob desire to drive out those who believe in individual freedom against you :)

    I believe the UK people are warm, compassionate and generous, who don't turn their backs on a friend in need.

    Unfortunately many here disagree.
    What a low opinion of they're neighbours they must have :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.

    1089 - yes the mediterranean culture is hard with our weather and culture. But pub closures owe much to hedge funds, ever rising rents and uneconomic beer sales from owners to landlords. A lot of people have had their dream destroyed, despite their hard work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    1102: You want a similar system to now but to pay after rather than before. More expensive way of doing it though and not everyone gives to charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    Ok so my comment about the Liverpool care path might be in poor taste, but seriously when the prospect for many is ( at least perceived to be ) a slow death from neglect in an uncaring poorly run geriatric unit persuading people to change lifestyles so they will live longer in that state is going to be a loser.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    Countries with greater inequalities in wealth have higher inequalities in health. So we do badly because we are one of the most inequal countries in the Western world. So bring on those caps on bankers' pay!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1107.

    The figures actually show very little difference across Europe but that doesn't make a very good story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    1094 UKStinks
    "The Government is prepping the media to keep writing articles about this so they can introduce the alcohol unit minimum pricing."

    Absolutely spot on. My sentiments exactly, it's another Tory tax con.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    Hands up who wants an extra couple of years festering in a pool of your own filth, being 'cared' for by minimum wage, unskilled, couldn't care less staff in an expensive care home?

    Or freezing and starving trying to make ends meet?

    Not me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.

    I think the real sad news is that in all persons who have to work until the full retirement date, there are very few 'healthy years' ....


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