Covid Scotland: Life expectancy suffers sharpest fall in 40 years

Life expectancy in Scotland has suffered the largest drop in 40 years, with the Covid-19 pandemic blamed for the “vast majority” of the fall.

New data from National Records of Scotland (NRS) shows life expectancy for the period 2018 to 2020 was down by more than 18 weeks for males, with Scotland’s drugs problem also said to be a factor.

The fall was smaller for females – a reduction of 8.5 weeks.

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Life expectancy in Scotland has suffered the sharpest fall since records began. Picture: PALife expectancy in Scotland has suffered the sharpest fall since records began. Picture: PA
Life expectancy in Scotland has suffered the sharpest fall since records began. Picture: PA
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Life expectancy for males in 2018-2020 was 76.8 years, down from 77.1 years in 2017-2019.

As well as the impact of Covid-19 and drugs, NRS found deaths from “external causes”, such as accidents and suicides, “also had a negative effect on life expectancy”.

For females, life expectancy in 2018-2020 was 81.0 years, compared to 81.1 years in 2017-2019.

While coronavirus had a negative effect, this was countered in part by improvements in mortality for a number of conditions, including respiratory diseases, cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

However, average life expectancy at birth in Scotland has “now dropped below the 2012-2014 figure”, the report said, after “the biggest annual decrease since the series began”.

Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in the UK for males and females, with the figures showing this gap is increasing.

The report shows average life expectancy at birth in the UK was 82.9 years for females and 79.0 years for males in 2018-2020 – both higher than the Scottish figures.

The report said: “This gap between Scotland and the whole of the UK has increased since 1980-1982.”

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The gap in life expectancy between Scots in the most and least deprived areas has also grown.

The NRS figures show baby girls born in the least deprived areas have an average life expectancy of 85.6 years, compared to 75.4 for their counterparts born in the poorest areas – a gap of 10.2 years.

For baby boys the gap is wider, with males born in the most affluent areas having an average life expectancy of 82.4 years – 13.5 years more than a life expectancy of 68.9 years for those born in the most deprived parts of the country.

NRS said “This gap has become wider over the past few years, growing by 1.3 years for males and 1.6 years for females since 2013-2015.”

Life expectancy also varied between Scotland’s council areas, with female life expectancy at birth highest in East Renfrewshire at 84 years and lowest in Glasgow at 78.3 years.

Glasgow also had the lowest life expectancy at birth for males, 73.1 years, while the Shetland Islands had the highest at 80.6 years.

The report noted: “The majority of Scotland’s council areas have experienced a slow-down or a stall in life expectancy growth since 2012-2014 and many areas now have decreasing life expectancy, with Inverclyde, Dundee city and South Ayrshire experiencing some of the biggest decreases.”

Julie Ramsay, head of vital events statistics at NRS, said: “It is clear that the high number of excess deaths in 2020 has led to the fall in life expectancy.

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“Our analysis shows that Covid-19 deaths accounted for the vast majority of the fall in life expectancy for both males and females, with drug-related deaths also having a negative impact on life expectancy for males.”

While NRS said life expectancy was “not a prediction of how long someone will live”, Ms Ramsay added: “This measure of life expectancy provides an important summary of the health of the population and helps to show how this is changing over time.

“Increases in life expectancy point to a healthier population whilst reductions point to a decline in population health.

“Covid-19 has clearly driven a significant increase in deaths and this life expectancy measure will provide important evidence as to whether the impact of the pandemic is a one-off shock or whether it will have a sustained impact on mortality.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “These statistics show the true state our country is in.

“This fall in life expectancy is the result of two public health crises the SNP have catastrophically mishandled.

“Scotland has suffered as a result of years of distracted governments with broken priorities. Deprivation still cuts too many lives short.

“As we look ahead to a long and difficult winter with a crisis in emergency care already biting, ministers must get a grip on the things that really matter.”

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