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Calls for action as healthy life expectancy falls for men and women due to Covid pandemic

The number of years people are expected to life in good health has fallen in both men and women, likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures.

Between 2011-13 and 2020-22, healthy life expectancy fell by 9.3 months to 62.4 years in males and by 14 months to 62.7 years in females. However, there were minimal changes up to 2017-19. This meant it was ‘likely the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic contributed to this decrease’, the ONS said.

The largest drop for male healthy life expectancy in England was in the north east, with a decrease of 20.3 months. For females, the area with the greatest reduction was the east Midlands (31.8 months).

Senior fellow at The King’s Fund, Veena Raleigh, said the latest data provides ‘graphic’ evidence of the declining state of people’s health in England.

‘As there had been minimal change in healthy life expectancy up to 2017-19, it’s likely that the pandemic in 2020 will have contributed to this fall. It’s also likely that the delays in care for non-Covid conditions and an increase in long-term sickness following the pandemic will have been contributory factors,’ she said.

Earlier this year, ONS figures showed that overall life expectancy in 2020-22 had fallen for males and females, to 78.8 and 82.8 years respectively.

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‘So not only has life expectancy stalled, but more years are now spent in poor health. Currently, males and females spend almost one-quarter of their lives in poor health,’ Ms Raleigh added.

Commenting on the ’extremely concerning’ data, Dr Sarah Clarke, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ’The fact that people in some parts of the country have six more years of healthy life than others highlights the urgent need to address health inequalities.

’To narrow this gap we need to tackle the factors that make people ill in the first place – from poor housing, air quality, and the marketing of food and alcohol, to employment (including how much money you have), racism and discrimination, and transport.’

As such, Dr Clarke called for ‘coordinated and collective efforts from all parts of Government‘.

She said: ‘The Government’s upcoming Major Conditions Strategy – which the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said this week [26 March] would be published over the next few months – is a vital opportunity to commit to bold cross-Government action. Without concerted action from across government, ill health in the population is likely to grow.‘

Ms Raleigh echoed this, calling for ‘bolder measures’ to prevent and manage ill health to be an ‘urgent priority’ for the Government.

A version of this article was originally published by our sister publication Healthcare Leader.

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