In Conversation With… Gerry McCartney, NHS Health Scotland
LGiU Scotland’s Kim Fellows talks to Gerry McCartney from NHS Health Scotland, who is head of the Public Health Observatory.
Would you just start off by telling us about what you do and what the observatory is?
The Scottish Public Health Observatory is a collaboration between various public health organisations in Scotland. Our role is to describe and explain the trends in health and health inequalities for Scotland, and then to advise policymakers at different levels – whether it’s Scottish Government, international organisations, local government or NHS – about what they could do.
Can you tell us about what’s happening with life expectancy in Scotland and the trends?
Yes, life expectancy in Scotland has been largely improving from 1950 up until about 2012. The life expectancy had always been unequally shared across the population, with more affluent areas having longer life expectancies than more deprived areas, and that had narrowed between 1950 and 1975 or thereabouts, before those inequalities in life expectancy widened again. But since 2012 we’ve seen life expectancy stalling, which is really unusual. It stalled in Scotland but it also stalled in many other high-income countries including England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the USA. As a consequence of that stalling we’ve also seen health inequalities widening rapidly, so life expectancy in our poorest communities has started to go down quickly, and that’s obviously a huge concern to us. There are a number of factors behind that and there are a few important things to note.
This change in life expectancy has happened in both men and women and it’s affected all age groups. So it’s not that people who used to die at, say, age 80 are now dying at age 79, meaning that mortality rates are going up at all ages of the population and that’s contributing to life expectancy changes. It’s also happening across almost all causes of death, so it’s not just deaths due to one particular disease group, but it’s deaths due to drug related causes, cardiovascular diseases…