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The crisis before the crisis

6 Nov 2020

New research, led by GCPH and published in BMJ Open, highlights important and concerning changes in mortality rates across all countries and cities of the UK.

The research analysed almost 40 years of mortality trends up to 2017 across all parts of the UK: Scotland, England & Wales, Northern Ireland, and 11 key cities. Analyses were undertaken by sex, for different age groups, multiple causes of death, and comparing levels of deprivation.

Importantly, the analyses pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic, and so provide crucial context for understanding the scale of pandemic-related mortality and inequalities. The findings point to the public health emergency and inequalities crisis the UK was already faced with before the pandemic and the growing urgency of the issue if we are to reverse these trends. 

The key findings are:

  • The ‘stalling’ of improvement in mortality (and related measures like life expectancy) has been observed across all parts of the UK, suggesting common root cause
  • This overall ‘stalling’ of improvement actually masks increasing death rates among the poorest communities across the UK.
  • As a consequence, health (mortality) inequalities have widened dramatically across all parts of the UK. These widening of inequalities are seen for a very broad set of different causes of death, both chronic conditions like respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and other causes such as alcohol and drug-related factors.
  • The changes have been seen for men and women alike, and different age groups.

Access the full BMJ Open journal article: ‘Changing mortality trends in countries and cities of the UK: a population-based trend analysis’

Read a short summary of the findings (PDF)

Reflecting on the findings, lead author of the research Dr David Walsh said: 

These changes are unprecedented and should not be happening in a wealthy society such as the UK. The analyses have to be looked at in the context of all the other recent research – both within the UK and internationally – which has shown these changes to be driven by UK Government ‘austerity’ measures in place since 2010 which have disproportionately impacted our poorest citizens...

Read the full statement and media release (PDF)

Presentation on the findings by Dr David Walsh

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