COVID-19: Life expectancy in England falls to lowest level in a decade due to excess deaths in coronavirus pandemic

Life expectancy in England has fallen to its lowest level in nearly a decade, say health officials.

Public Health England (PHE) said the drop of 1.3 years for men and 0.9 years for women was due to the "very high level" of excess deaths in the coronavirus pandemic.

The drop means male life expectancy in 2020 fell to 78.7 years and 82.7 years for females – the lowest for both genders since 2011.

Spain, Italy and Poland had similar drops in 2020, PHE said, while France had a smaller decrease.

The organisation’s Health Profile for England 2021 report gives an in-depth look at the country’s health.

It also said the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was the biggest in two decades – as far back as its data goes.

For men the gap was 10.3 years in 2020 – a year larger than in 2019; while for women it was 8.3 years – 0.6 years more than in 2019.

"This demonstrates that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in life expectancy by deprivation," said PHE.

"COVID-19 was the cause of death that contributed most to the gap in 2020, however, higher mortality from heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases in deprived areas remained important contributors," it added.

Coronavirus was the leading underlying cause of death among males, replacing heart disease, and the second-largest cause of death among females, said PHE.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease remained the biggest cause of death for women in England in 2020, and the third-biggest cause of death among men.

Many people who died with COVID also had had dementia or heart disease mentioned on their death certificate, PHE noted.

The pandemic also meant half of people with a worsening health condition between May 2020 and January 2021 didn’t seek treatment, mostly as they were worried about catching coronavirus or adding to the strain on the NHS.

PHE said alcohol-related deaths had also seen an "unprecedented" rise – up 20% in 2020 compared with the year before. And that "isolation and interruptions to education" had had a "profound effect" on young people.

"Some of these effects will be longer-term and data are not available to measure them yet," it said.

The report concluded that the pandemic had "disproportionally affected people from ethnic minority groups, people living in deprived areas, older people and those with pre-existing health conditions".

"There have been substantial indirect effects on children’s education and mental health, and on employment opportunities across the life course, but particularly for younger people working in sectors such as hospitality and entertainment," it said.

"In addition, it is clear that access and use of a range of health services has been disrupted during the pandemic and the long-term effects of this is not yet realised."

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