This article looks at some of the key statistics surrounding health and healthcare in the UK in 2021 and highlights the gaping health inequalities in the country.
The health of a country’s population is one of its biggest assets. If the people are healthy, they are able to work, have children and participate in a functioning society. This is a good reason for governments to prioritise keeping people in good shape.
The NHS or National Health Service has Godlike status in Britain. Since it was founded in 1948, NHS has operated as a taxpayer-funded health service that is free at the point of use. That’s right- you don’t pay anything when you go to the doctor’s for a minor cold, nor do you pay a penny directly for bigger procedures such as operations and transplants.
According to a report by the Health Foundation (link). This is why 72% of people in the UK strongly support the concept of the NHS, a national health system that is tax-funded and free at the point of use.
Because the NHS is such a huge part of British society, it is a contentious issue in elections. 62% of the British public stated that the NHS would be what decided who they voted for in the 2019 general election, so the health service is very important to British people and helps to win or lose elections.
The NHS has many problems, however. A lot of people say the services that the NHS provides are getting worse. 39% of people who used the NHS in 2019 thought the standard has got worse since they had last used it. 46% of disabled NHS users agreed with this. This is due to a range of funding challenges that face the NHS because of the ageing population, Covid-19, the increasing cost of medicines and treatments, staff shortages etc. The cost of the government’s Covid-19 pandemic response in 2020/21 for example, is estimated to be around 278 million pounds alone according to the Health Foundation. (link)
There is also growing health inequality in the UK. People in richer areas are healthier and live longer than those in poor areas. For example, a boy born today in Hartlepool in the north of England, a poor town with low-income levels, can expect to have 57 years of good health, whereas a boy born in a rich area, such as parts of London, can expect to experience 71 years of good health.
Many of the health problems that cause early illness or death would have been preventable (around 64%) with effective public health measures in place. According to a 2013 BBC article, “five big killers – heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease – account for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England alone and the Department of Health estimates 30,000 of these are entirely avoidable.” (link)
These preventable health problems are often lifestyle-related. The Health Survey for England 2019 estimates that 28.0% of adults in England are obese and a further 36.2% are overweight but not obese. Obesity causes illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Smoking and alcohol abuse are also factors that account for preventable illness and are often more prevalent in poorer, more deprived areas of the country.
Successive UK governments have taken a variety of measures to improve public health. These are:
Taxation (graphic): The government has increased tax on harmful items such as cigarettes. In this way, it tries to reduce the number of people smoking, thus lowering smoking-related illness and death.
Regulation (graphic): Again, the government has banned smoking in some places. Using the law to change people’s behaviour is one way to influence public health.
Spending (graphic): Giving cash straight to the NHS and other health providers as well as to individuals ensures there is money to be spent on maintaining the nation’s health.
Information (graphic): Information drives and health campaigns designed to educate the public about health-related issues is another weapon the government can use to improve public health.
The health of Britain is not in a good place at the moment. Since 2010, improvements in life expectancy have slowed more than in any other European country. NHS waiting times reached a record high in January 2021 according to the Guardian newspaper (link) and the health service faces an exodus of doctors and other medical staff due to fatigue from the pandemic and an offer of a mere 3% pay rise when they had initially asked for 12.5%. It remains to be seen whether the collective resuscitation will take place any time soon.