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Is the drop in life expectancy all doom and gloom? It seems the answer is not yet known

by Ryan Blake, medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

The effect of covid-19 can be seen far and wide, however, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has estimated that the life expectancy for men in the UK has fallen to 79 years, with women’s remaining virtually unchanged at 82.9 years. 

The fall in life expectancy is not solely a UK problem, with most of Europe and USA are reeling from the effects of covid-19, but is the drop something to be scared of?

Firstly, life expectancy figures show the average age a newborn would live to if current death rates continued for their whole life, not their predicted actual lifespan. Therefore the rates can rise and fall as a result of wars or pandemics, such as Covid-19, and provide a record of the effect at the time.

Drop in life expectancy followed by an increase

The ONS is advising that there is likely to be a further drop in life expectancy followed by a recovery thereafter but, importantly, with covid-19 death rates unlikely to continue long-term, the new estimates do not mean a boy born in 2020 will have a shorter life than one born in 2019. 

This makes it sound as if there is little effect on the future population’s mortality, which is a good thing, but the real issue is that it is yet to be seen what the total effect of covid-19 has been on the disruption of other treatment, in particular for cancer patients.

Effect of Covid-19 may not be known for some time

The ONS reference the “survivorship effect” which is after loss of a large section of the more frail population, there would be fewer deaths in the period that follows from the healthier surviving population. 

However, given the unknown number of people that have been affected by the delays in treatment, the line between frail and healthy is blurred with many people either requiring greater treatment then they may have needed had they been diagnosed or treated sooner, or being diagnosed as terminal which may not have been the case had they been diagnosed and treated sooner. 

Equally with long waiting lists remaining, is the effect of covid-19 still yet to be felt for others which could blur the healthy/frail line?

Sadly, it seems that the true effect may not be known for some time yet.

It is yet to be seen what the total effect of covid-19 has been on the disruption of other treatment, in particular for cancer patients.”