Commenting on the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) comparisons1 of all-cause mortality between European countries during the pandemic, Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow, The King’s Fund said:
‘These figures show that, although all European countries have experienced devastating death tolls from Covid-19, and the impacts varied geographically in terms of timing and magnitude, excess mortality in the UK during the pandemic exceeded that of most comparable western European countries.
‘The all-cause mortality rate January 2020–July 2022 compared with the baseline of 2015–19 was 3.1 per cent higher in the UK compared with, for example, an excess of 1.8 and 1.3 per cent in Spain and France respectively. The Nordic countries actually experienced 2 to 4 per cent lower mortality rates than the 2015–19 baseline. The UK also had the highest excess mortality rate compared with the baseline among people under 65 in western European countries such as France, Belgium and Sweden. Eastern European countries had the highest death tolls, with excess mortality rates of up to 18 per cent.
‘There has been much speculation about the causes of continuing excess deaths in England in 20222, including the possibility that unprecedented pressures on the NHS are resulting in potentially preventable deaths. While the government needs urgently to address these shortfalls in NHS capacity, a much stronger focus is needed also on disease prevention to improve population health, thereby reducing the demand for services and facilitating longer-term sustainability of the health and care system. For example, we’re seeing excess deaths in 2022 from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) such as heart attacks and strokes : prevention, earlier diagnosis and management of CVD can save many lives, improve outcomes, reduce health inequalities and lower the demand for health and care services.3
‘The UK’s pre-pandemic life expectancy already compared poorly with comparator countries like France, Italy and Spain4, especially for females. This ONS analysis suggests the UK is likely to fall even further down life expectancy rankings. The UK’s relatively high pandemic mortality, coming on the heels of a pre-pandemic decade of stalling life expectancy, highlights the enormous challenges the government faces in turning this ship around. However, action to reduce the growing burden of preventable morbidity and mortality, and widening health inequalities, is long overdue and must now be a priority if ministers want to reduce excess mortality and improve life expectancy.’
Notes to editors
For more information or interview request, please contact The King's Fund media team on 07584 146035 or [email protected]
To facilitate reliable international comparisons of life expectancy, it’s vital that the UK resumes its contribution of mortality data to Eurostat (suspended following Brexit) so that life expectancy can be reliably benchmarked against European countries using a consistent methodology.