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Press release

‘UK compares poorly with other advanced nations’ on excess deaths and life expectancy: The King’s Fund response to OECD international comparison


Commenting on the latest international health statistics in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Health at a glance 2021, Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund said:

‘The huge pressures on health and care systems, and the tragic impact on people’s health, resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have been seen globally. The UK is not alone in experiencing a devastating death toll that has had an unequal impact across different communities, and a mounting backlog of care due to the disruption to health services.

‘However, while the impact of the pandemic is still playing out, so far the UK compares poorly with other advanced nations. Excess deaths in the United Kingdom from January 2020 to June 2021 were higher than in most West European and high-income countries, behind only Spain, Portugal, Italy and the United States. While life expectancy fell in 2020 in all but a handful of OECD countries, the greatest falls were in Spain, Italy, Belgium, the United States and the United Kingdom. The outlook suggests the United Kingdom is unlikely to improve its comparatively poor standing on life expectancy.

‘The OECD report shows a mixed picture for the quality of UK health care. While it performs well on some measures including flu vaccination, breast cancer screening and diabetes care, we continue to lag behind on obesity, heart disease and cancer mortality.  
‘Although health spending rose sharply in response to the pandemic, historically spending in the UK on health care services, staffing and infrastructure has been lower than in many comparable countries. As a result, the NHS is further on the back foot than most advanced health systems in coping with the pandemic’s legacy, which includes an exhausted workforce, a large and growing backlog of care and widening health inequalities.’

Notes to editors

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.