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Healthy life expectancy falls due to Covid pandemic, figures show

Healthy life expectancy falls due to Covid pandemic, figures show
By Beth Gault
27 March 2024

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

Between 2011-13 and 2020-22, healthy life expectancy has fallen 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 fall 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.

‘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.

‘Today’s ONS data also lays bare the wide geographical inequalities in England, with healthy life expectancy in the North East being almost seven years shorter for males and six years shorter for females compared with the South East. This North-South divide in healthy life expectancy is the product of deep-seated socio-economic inequalities between different communities.’ 

She called for ‘bolder measures’ to prevent and manage ill health to be an ‘urgent priority’ for the government.

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