A new independent review of health in Scotland over the last two decades is to be carried out – with a key figure in the project saying it could help “stem the tide of avoidable ill health” across the country.
The Health Foundation aims to conduct a detailed and thorough analysis of the trends and wider factors that have influenced people’s health in Scotland in the last 20 years.
The charity launched the work amid concerns that Scotland suffers from persistent health inequalities – resulting in those in more deprived areas suffering more ill health than their counterparts in affluent communities.
The coronavirus pandemic means the situation may have worsened over the last two years.
Scotland currently has the lowest average life expectancy at birth of all four of the UK nations – with this also amongst the lowest in western Europe.
Meanwhile, the last five years has seen an increase in the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas.
Earlier this month, National Records of Scotland (NRS) reported that “those living in the most deprived communities spend on average 24 years fewer in good health than those living in the least deprived areas”.
It added: “With those in the most deprived areas also dying younger, they spend more than one-third of their lives in poor health.”
That comes after NRS reported life expectancy at birth in Scotland had fallen to 76.8 years for males and 81.0 years for females.
The Health Foundation recently reported that smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity and harmful alcohol use are leading risk factors “driving the UK’s high burden of preventable ill health” – with a call for more action to tackle these issues.
David Finch, assistant director of healthy lives at the Health Foundation, said: “Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on the tragic consequences of widespread ill health in Scotland.
“However, health had already been in decline prior to the pandemic with improvements in life expectancy stalled, and even reversed in some parts of the country.”
He added that the independent review to be carried out “brings together academic research with stakeholder and public engagement in Scotland”, saying this meant both experts and citizens would be contributing to its conclusions.
Mr Finch said: “Policymakers in Scotland have demonstrated the will to act on health inequalities. This inquiry aims to inform ongoing policy, providing insight for future action to tackle the root causes of ill health and inequalities.”
Meanwhile, Chris Creegan, chair of the review’s expert advisory group, said: “In Scotland, for many years dubbed the ‘sick man of Europe’, there has been no shortage of research attention and policy focus on the issue of health. Indeed, it might be argued that Scotland has world-leading policy.
“Yet health inequalities remain widespread and persistent. That this is unacceptable is surely not contentious.
“However, the pressing issue, never more so than in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, is how can we close the gap and improve people’s health over the long term.
“To achieve this, we need a better understanding of the factors that led to the pre-pandemic stalling of life expectancy and the wider influences on health, such as rising poverty, education gaps that opened through the pandemic and the extent of the post-pandemic employment recovery.
“This review is therefore timely and crucial if we are to stem the tide of avoidable ill health in Scotland and reverse it.”