New analysis from the Health Foundation sets out the huge loss of life* from COVID-19 one year on from the first lockdown. The independent charity calculated that with 146,000 deaths† due to COVID-19 in the UK, up to‡ 1.5 million potential years of life have been lost, with those who died losing up to 10 years of life on average. Almost three quarters of those who died were aged over 75, with people in this age group losing an average 6.5 years of life.
More years of men’s lives have been lost in the pandemic than women’s (825,000 years of life lost in total for men, compared with 670,000 for women). Each man lost on average 10.4 years; each woman 10 years. While women have higher life expectancy, men have been up to around twice as likely to die from COVID 19 than women of the same age.
People in the 20% most deprived parts of England§ were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and they died at younger ages, so may have lost more years of life. While existing health inequalities mean these people may have had lower life expectancy, the analysis found that in total, 35% more lives were lost in the 20% most deprived areas than the least, with 45% more years of life lost in total.
When compared with flu, the researchers found that despite misconceptions early in the pandemic, COVID-19 has been much deadlier, even with full scale national lockdowns in place. In an average year around 30,000 people die from flu and pneumonia, with around 250,000 years of life lost. This is just a sixth of the years lost to COVID-19, or a quarter when comparing with deaths of over 75s.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, said: ‘The scale of loss the UK has experienced in the pandemic is devastating. Older people have been impacted most and those who have died and their families could have enjoyed many more years of life together.
‘The pandemic has severely tested governments around the world and while there have been successes in the UK’s approach, it has also fallen short in key areas. Inadequate protection of care home residents and health and care staff, delays to lockdown decisions, a shaky test and trace system. And deep-rooted inequalities in society have amplified the unequal impact of COVID-19. There will need to be a full public inquiry to make sure lessons are learned for the future.
‘Even before the pandemic, life expectancy was stalling in the UK more than in other European countries. The government must now tackle issues which injure health: poverty, unemployment, low quality work, poor housing, and taking stronger action on risk factors like tobacco, alcohol and obesity. Making progress cannot happen without a national cross-government strategy which includes more collaboration with and investment in local government.
‘COVID-19 has also exposed the lack of resilience in the NHS as the pandemic took hold, with major shortages in the workforce, critical and intensive care beds and equipment relative to comparable nations. There is now a huge backlog of care from unmet need and growing demand. The long overdue reform of social care means vulnerable people go without care they need, further adding pressure to the NHS. Without significant further investment from government in both the NHS and to fix social care, people will start to see deteriorating care quality and poorer health outcomes.
‘It is now time for the Government to get serious about levelling up health with a coherent, comprehensive strategy for recovery backed by investment.’