Postcode lottery of life: ONS data reveals shocking life expectancy gaps across UK

Where you live must not determine how long you live. Regular testing is needed to end the postcode health lottery, says a leading expert.

Startling new official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a difference of 12.9 years in the life expectancy of a female in Kensington & Chelsea compared with a man in Blackpool.

New life expectancy figures for local areas in England, Northern Ireland and Wales reveal male life expectancy at birth is highest in Hart (the area around Fleet in Hampshire) at 83.7 years and lowest in Blackpool at 73.4 years. That’s a gap of over a decade. Female life expectancy is highest in London’s Kensington & Chelsea at 86.3 years and lowest in Blaenau Gwent in Wales (78.9 years), a gap of over seven years.

This postcode health lottery must not be allowed to continue, says a leading health specialist.

Where in the UK we were born shouldn’t doom us to a shorter life than other Brits. The difference between life expectancy figures for a Chelsea girl and a Blackpool boy are unacceptable. Regular health tests and screening would be powerful tools to ensure that females born in Blaenau Gwent and males born in Hart live equally long and healthy lives."

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead, London Medical Laboratory (LML)

'The more we examine these figures, the more concerning they become. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, life expectancy at birth in 2020-22 was actually lower than in 2017-19 for both men and women. And the North-South health divide is clear. Out of the 10 local areas with the highest male life expectancy, nine were in the South of England. For females, all 10 areas with the highest life expectancy were in the South.

‘The North-South health divide is a national concern that needs to be addressed urgently. The English regions with the highest and lowest male life expectancy, respectively, were the South East (80.1 years) and the North East (77.2 years), a gap of three years. The English regions with the highest and lowest female life expectancy, respectively, were the South West (83.9 years) and the North East again (81.2 years), a gap of nearly three years.

‘It’s important to note that the ONS concedes that a fall in period life expectancy does not mean that a baby born in 2020-22 will inevitably go on to live a shorter life than a baby born in 2017-19. Their average lifespan will be determined by changes in mortality rates across their lifetime and, if they improve, then period life expectancy will go back up. Regular health testing could be vital in improving underlying health determinants and results.

‘Before people even begin to show symptoms, many potentially fatal conditions can be identified for treatment through regular blood testing. The most recent monthly mortality figures we have (for July, 2023) show the leading cause of death in both England and Wales was “ischaemic” heart diseases (9.9% of deaths in England and 9.6% of deaths in Wales).  Ischaemic heart diseases are those in which there is a lack of sufficient blood flow to the heart caused by blockages in coronary blood vessels. This condition is strongly associated with several wider health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

‘There is no reason why the heart of a male born in Hart should be healthier than anywhere else. The latest heart health blood tests accurately identify the chief causes of heart complications. No matter where we live in Britain, these tests are readily obtainable and can be used as the basis of treatment plans that could help end the North-South health divide.

‘London Medical Laboratory’s Heart Health Profile test is already widely used to identify many conditions. The simple, finger-prick blood test indicates risks to heart health and includes a full cholesterol profile, as well as testing for inflammation. It also tests for diabetes, showing how well the body is controlling blood sugar.

‘The Heart Health Profile test can be taken at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores.'


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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