SCOTS living in the poorest parts of the country are more likely to be admitted to intensive care at a younger age than those from more affluent areas.
New statistics show that in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, where large sections of the population suffer from deprivation, the average age for admission to hospital intensive care or high dependency units is 58.
But in rural health board areas, where levels of poverty are lower, the average age of those needing intensive treatment is 65.
The Scottish Conservatives said the figures were the latest to highlight the “stark gap” in health equality which continues to blight Scotland.
According to a report by the Scottish Intensive Care Society Audit Group, the average age of admission to intensive care or high dependency units last year was highest in boards in the west of Scotland.
After Glasgow, Lanarkshire had an average age of admission of 59, followed closely by Ayrshire and Arran at 60.
But in NHS Borders and NHS Dumfries and Galloway, the average age of admission stood at 65, while in Grampian it was 63.
The Tories said the figures demonstrated that people in the country’s poorer areas were falling critically ill up to seven years sooner than those in wealthier regions.
It comes after a raft of other reports and studies have highlighted the health gap between the richest and poorest in society. An Audit Scotland study revealed that men in Scotland’s worst-off areas can expect to live 11 years less than those in the richest. Cancer statistics have also shown significantly higher rates of death in deprived areas compared with wealthier ones.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “It’s incredible to think that there could be such a gulf depending on what part of Scotland someone lives.
“It’s one thing talking about lifestyle and diet, but when you see the figures for people who are critically ill years sooner than others, it really presses home the problem.
“A concerted effort from everyone is needed to ensure that these statistics change over time, and that someone’s wellbeing is not dictated by where they live or how much they earn. That includes individuals themselves taking more responsibility for their own life and their own health.
“The kind of effort needed to turn this around means people taking responsibility, along with hard work from the Scottish Government and NHS.”
The British Medical Association Scotland agreed that the figures highlighted the need to take action to reduce inequalities across society.
A BMA spokeswoman said: “This information reflects the concerns that doctors have about the growing gap in social inequalities and their impact on the health of people from the poorest communities in Scotland and on the local NHS services.
“Often the causes of ill health among those living in the poorest areas are attributed to lifestyle choices, such as drinking and smoking habits, but often poor health can be a product of unemployment, poor housing, lack of educational attainment. If Scotland’s politicians are serious about reducing health inequalities then much more must be done to tackle the social causes at the root of the problem.”
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said the figures showed the need to increase bed numbers in hospitals where needed, particularly where higher levels of deprivation meant growing numbers of people needed intensive treatment.
“There are a shortage of beds in our hospitals to cope with the patients who need care and will do in the future,” she said.
“I am quite sure there are younger and younger people going into hospital and we have to prepare for that.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said inequalities were not just a health problem. “We need a shift in emphasis from dealing with the consequences to tackling the underlying causes, such as ending poverty, supporting families and improving our physical and social environments,” she said.
“In the face of the UK government’s extremely worrying welfare cuts, we are working with all of our partners to tackle poverty and inequality and help those who want to work to get into work.”