Life expectancy in England falls to lowest level since 2011

Excess deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic contributed to life expectancy in England falling last year to its lowest level in almost a decade, according to Public Health England (PHE).

PHE said the “very high level” of excess deaths caused life expectancy to fall by 1.3 years for men, to 78.7, and 0.9 years for women to 82.7.

The organisation said this was the lowest life expectancy since 2011 for both sexes.

PHE published its Health Profile for England 2021 report on Wednesday, which it said gave the most comprehensive look at the state of the nation’s health.

It said the level of inequality in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas for both men and women was higher than all previous years for which PHE has data, therefore covering the past two decades.

Its report stated: “This demonstrates that the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities in life expectancy by deprivation.

“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.”

Elsewhere in its report, PHE said dementia and Alzheimer’s disease remained the leading cause of death in England in women and the third largest in men.

Dementia was reported as the main pre-existing health condition in about a quarter of all deaths involving Covid-19 between March and June 2020 last year, the report said.

By June this year there were about 35,000 fewer people aged 65 and over with a diagnosis of dementia, PHE said, potentially attributing this drop to higher deaths among people with dementia during the pandemic as well as reduced access to diagnostic services.

The report said half of people with a worsening health condition between May 2020 and January 2021 did not seek treatment, mostly due to not wanting to add to pressure on the NHS or for fear of catching the virus.

PHE said there had been an “unprecedented” rise in deaths caused by alcohol use, up 20% last year compared to 2019.

The report also noted the “profound effect” of the pandemic on the life of young people “through isolation and interruptions to education”.

It said: “Some of these effects will be longer-term and data are not available to measure them yet.”

In conclusion, PHE said: “The report has highlighted how the direct impact of Covid-19 pandemic has 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.

“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.”