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 983.

    I guess you avoid the question at the end of that comment, just as you regularly do.

    Leave me alone, my wages don't belong to you!
    Disagree? Ok. Tell me how much of your wage I am entitled to and why?
    If taking 100% of wages is theft, at what % is it not theft?

    Queue your evasion, revealing your inability to answer questions. This is why socialists always loose debates :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 982.

    We should be taking siestas, drinking more wine, eating more pasta and BBQing more often!

    By my calculations the US actually has the best result here-a lower Years healthy life:Life expectancy ratio. I'd much prefer to have a shorter poor-health old age rather than dragging on being 'looked after' by faceless carers and chocked full of drugs!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 981.

    ermm.... why only "western" countries are included in the table?

  • rate this

    Comment number 980.

    Hopefully at my demise friends/family will say he enjoyed his life rather than he tried so hard to keep up with the spanish .

  • rate this

    Comment number 979.


    He was questioning the ethicacy of having property demanded OF you because of someone else's actions, which doesn't make him a hypocrit except in your mind.

    I respect that you hold different views, but you can't go around calling people names just because they don't agree with your assessment.

    How about you both come up with a pragmatic solution or compromise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 978.

    955. Bastiat
    " Why reward this monster with custody of ur healthcare?"

    Because the alternatives are even worse

  • rate this

    Comment number 977.

    Tax on booze & cigs far out weighs overall health cost of them, that's a fact! Also in most of the countries living longer & generally being of better health than us, they smoke & drink quite a bit more than we do & that's a fact too! So at the end of the day the good old British sheep are once more being led & fleeced again & that seems to be a fact looking at some of the comments!..Sad really!

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    I don't see how quoting a nutter like Nietzsche helps anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    Also, this is a pretty one dimensional interpretation of the data.
    How would it look if, as well as of looking at it from a national point of view, the stats were also calculated based on disposable income across national boundaries.
    Comparing and combining the two sets would be of more use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    For those on the normal BBC anti alcohol bull... they drink FAR more abroad than we do here.
    As to the rest, perhaps the stress of working the longest hours in europe, with the shortest holidays, worst pay, highest cost of living and taxes, most stupid rules might have a lot to do with it.
    Why do I pay my tax for a council gym to exist I can't afford to use?

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    955. Bastiat

    When Nietzsche lived very few states (even the UK, USA and France) had full democratic accountability of their governments. Pointing out that the state is imperfect is stating the obvious.

    The reason we have chosen as a community state provision of healthcare (and education) is that the private sector WOULD not provide a universal service as businesses must serve profitable markets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    The important questions that Brits are unprepared to answer:

    How much more tax would you pay for better health care 5%,10%, 25%?

    Are you happy to spend that extra on Immigrants and those with significantly self inflicted health issues.

    Can you be honest with yourselves - will you give up holidays, cars flat screen TVs to achieve the social equity you desire?

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    Let's all have a sing song and party like it's 1997, come on guys and gals join in, you all know the words.
    "thiiiings can only get b..."

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    It's quite encouraging to see most posters can see through this article and the sources quoted, recognising it as part of the 'nudging' agenda towards acceptance of the crony-privatisation of the NHS & increasing the amount of our money govt wants to take.
    To prop up banks is their priority.
    Almost everyone wants a functional NHS.
    To that end it should be removed from political control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    794.Trout Mask Replica
    How do we justify this state monopoly"

    Many of us, possibly you, would not have reached adulthood without it
    Sorry - were you trying to argue "in favour" of the NHS here? lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    I find it very interesting that any 'solutions' to a crisis perceived by Government, invariably ends with its citizens being punished en masse in the pocket. Solutions needn't necessarily cost more money! (And what on earth have they done with all the previous cash they have fleeced out of us in the name of 'progress'?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    I'll second that and suggest that you get a decent quality water filter to sift out all of the SSRI's, lithium, hydofluorocilic acid, pesticide runoffs and other nasty chemicals that 'treatment' leaves in"

    I would agree but water filters also remove the good minerals as well. What is needed are 'smart' filters that take bad stuff out of water but leave the good stuff in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.


    Bastlat makes far more sense than you and is a lot funnier :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    922.Bastiat - ".....private business operated as inefficiently as the NHS, it'd be bankrupted decades ago......"

    A/. Your evidence for inefficiency in the NHS compared to Private health companies?

    B/. Remerber the PIP scandal - that is how private health firms stay passing their mistakes onto the NHS....

    C/. Babies dying under the "care" of Harmonia in London...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    How about they stop wasting money on "strategies" and just keep our bloody hospitals open?


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