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The King's Fund responds to the latest ONS statistics on avoidable mortality in England and Wales

Veena Raleigh, Senior Fellow, The King’s Fund comments on the latest ONS statistics on avoidable mortality in England and Wales: 2021 and 2022

‘Avoidable mortality in England and Wales is still higher than pre-pandemic and, as yet, no political party has set out a plan that meets the huge societal challenge of stalling life expectancy and a sicker population struggling to access health care. 

Today’s data from the ONS shows that over one in five of all deaths in England and Wales in 2022 were considered avoidable. These were people under 75 years of age who died from causes that are considered either preventable or treatable given timely and effective public health and health care services1. Examples of deaths that are considered preventable are those from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, and alcohol-related causes. Causes that are considered treatable include many cancers such as breast cancer. 

‘About two-thirds of the overall avoidable mortality rate is preventable mortality, which is highest in some of the most deprived areas such as Blackpool, Liverpool and Manchester. Of significant concern is that avoidable mortality in 2022 was higher than in the pre-pandemic year 2019. It has been rising in children and young people in England since 2020, and alcohol and drug-related death rates also continued to rise. Separate data shows that avoidable mortality rates in the UK are higher than in most high-income OECD countries

‘Overall, this is both a damning indictment of the quality of our public health policies and health care services, and yet more evidence of the poor and deteriorating state of the population’s health. Of the 9.4 million working-age adults who are not in work, 2.8 million of these adults are unable to work due to long-term sickness. With the NHS waiting list for treatments standing at over 7 million, including over 400,000 people waiting for potentially life-saving heart care, and long waits to see a GP, the prognosis for improved population health in the short to medium term looks bleak. 

‘The cut in public health budgets of one-quarter since 2015/16, which fell most heavily on people living in the most deprived areas of England, illustrates governmental failure to adequately prioritise improving health and preventing illness in areas where people have the poorest health. Health care services in the UK are also under-resourced compared with international peers and key health outcomes are worse – a powerful testimony that the UK is also doing poorly when it comes to treating people. 

‘This heavy burden of avoidable ill health and mortality has devastating consequences for individuals, families, communities and the economy. Yet, without a significant refocusing of policy to improve the nation's wellbeing and build a healthy workforce, the political aspirations for economic growth are unlikely to be realised. 

‘Preventing ill health and reducing premature deaths is surely one of the biggest challenges of our age, and while political parties have set out some measures to improve public health, such as committing to a smokefree generation, none of them match the scale of reform needed to bring about serious change.’ 

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  1. Footnote 1

    Avoidable deaths are defined by the ONS as deaths among people aged under 75 years from causes that are considered either preventable or treatable by timely and effective public health and health care services, using the international definition of avoidable mortality.

Notes to editors

For further information, or to request an interview, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 020 7307 2585. 

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all. 

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