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Hunt to call on commissioners to tackle UK’s ‘shocking underperformance’ on public health

The health secretary has called on commissioners to tackle the UK’s ‘shocking underperformance’ on public health after a study showed the UK has performed ‘substantially worse’ in death rates, years of life lost and life expectancy than comparable nations.

The study, carried out by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and published in the Lancet today, compared the UK’s performance in public health with the other 14 original members of the European Union plus Canada, Australia, Norway and the USA. It used data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2010.

It found that the UK ranked around 14th of the 19 countries in terms of life expectancy in 2010, down from 12th in 1990, despite life expectancy increasing in absolute terms by 4.2 years. The worst relative mortality rates were for men and women aged between 20 and 54.

Jeremy Hunt will say in a statement on the study today that the UK was a long way behind its global counterparts. He will call for action by local health commissioners to tackle the five big killers – cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory and liver diseases.

He will say: ‘Despite real progress in cutting deaths, we remain a poor relative to our global cousins on many measures of health, something I want to change. For too long we have been lagging behind and I want the reformed health system to take up this challenge and turn this shocking underperformance around.’

He is expected to announce a strategy to tackle cardiovascular disease, which he says could save 30,000 lives a year.

The study found that compared with the other countries, the UK had significantly lower rates of years of lives left for ischaemic heart disease, COPD, lower respiratory infections, breast cancer, other cardiovascular and circulatory disorders, oesophageal cancer, preterm birth complications, congenital anomalies, and aortic aneurysm.

However, the rates were higher than average for road injury, diabetes, liver cancer, and chronic kidney disease.

The study concluded: ‘The performance of the UK in terms of premature mortality is persistently and significantly below the mean of EU15+ and requires additional concerted action. Further progress in premature mortality from several major causes, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers, will probably require improved public health, prevention, early intervention, and treatment activities.’

Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer of Public Health England and one of the authors of the report, told the BBC: ‘Despite some enviable recent success, for example on smoking, we in the UK need to take a hard look at what can be done to help people in the UK achieve the levels of health already enjoyed by other some countries. Central and local government, charities, employers and retail businesses all have a part to play.’