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Over 3 million workers in England will have major illnesses by 2040 – study

New research from the Health Foundation has also found people living in the poorest areas of the country will be three times more likely to die by the age of 70.

The key to a thriving economy is having a healthy workforce, yet, new research from the Health Foundation, an independent UK-based charity committed to bringing about better health and care, has highlighted that by 2040, 70,000 workers in England will be living with a major illness. This equates to 3.7 million adults.

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Authors of the study, which was released today, highlighted the statistic is up almost 25% from 2019 levels.

However, researchers predicted no improvement in health inequalities for working-age adults by 2040, with 80% of the increase in major illness in more deprived areas.

To conduct the research, experts from the Health Foundation and the University of Liverpool analysed 1.7 million GP and hospital records from various places around the country to estimate the difference in diagnosed illness by level of deprivation in England in 2019 – the last year of recorded health data before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following this, researchers then calculated how levels of ill health are predicted to change between 2019 and 2040 based on trends in risk factors including smoking, obesity alcohol use, diet and physical activity. In addition, rates of illness, life expectancy and population changes were also considered.

Commenting on the news, Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: ‘Without action, the number of working-age people living with major illness is set to increase, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country.’

From the findings, experts discovered chronic pain, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, and depression, contribute to the majority of health inequalities. These are projected to grow at a faster rate in the poorest areas in the country. Each of these conditions are typically managed by GPs or in the community, which, according to those who worked on the research, is even more of a reason to invest in primary care and focus on prevention and early intervention.

Against this backdrop, experts from the Health Foundation have claimed that if a drastic change is to be made to improve health inequalities, ministers need to re-think their plans prior to the upcoming General Election. According to the research, the government’s target to improve healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 and narrow the gap between the areas with the best and worst health will be missed by a significant margin.

Ann Raymond, Economist at the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre, said: ‘The findings from this report clearly demonstrate how people living in more deprived areas develop major illness earlier, live for longer in poor health and die younger than their counterparts in less deprived areas.

‘These inequalities will remain stubbornly persistent over the next two decades if current trends continue.

‘This report should be a wake-up call for politicians ahead of the General Election about the need for action to address rising ill health – our future health and prosperity as a nation depends on it.’

Whilst concluding the research, experts make it clear that if poor health is to be addressed properly, action needs to be taken beyond the NHS. The report calls for a series of measures including:

  • A long-term, cross-government approach to address the underlying causes of ill health, such as poor housing, inadequate incomes and poor-quality jobs
  • Investment in the NHS, local authorities and the voluntary sector to manage higher demand for services, especially in the most deprived areas
  • Employers to be doing more to improve working conditions and support the wellbeing of their staff

Image: Mehrpouya H

More on this topic:

One million people in England died prematurely due to health inequalities, report shows

Health inequalities have been discovered in Derby following COVID-19


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