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Excess years of life lost to COVID-19 and other causes of death by sex, neighbourhood deprivation and region in England & Wales during 2020: a registry-based study
Deaths in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in England & Wales were unevenly distributed socioeconomically and geographically. However, the full scale of inequalities may have been underestimated to date, as most measures of excess mortality do not adequately account for varying age profiles of deaths between social groups. We measured years of life lost (YLL) attributable to the pandemic, directly or indirectly, comparing mortality across geographic and socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
We used national mortality registers in England & Wales, from 27/12/2014 until 25/12/2020, covering 3,265,937 deaths. YLLs (main outcome) were calculated using 2019 single year sex-specific life tables for England & Wales. Interrupted time-series analyses, with panel time-series models, were used to estimate expected YLL by sex, geographical region, and deprivation quintile between 7/3/2020 and 25/12/2020 by cause: direct deaths (COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases), cardiovascular disease & diabetes, cancer, and other indirect deaths (all other causes). Excess YLL during the pandemic period were calculated by subtracting observed from expected values. Additional analyses focused on excess deaths for region and deprivation strata, by age-group. Limitations include the quasi-experimental nature of the research design and the requirement for accurate and timely recording. Between 7th March 2020 and 25th December 2020 there were an estimated 763,550 (95% CI: 696,826 to 830,273) excess YLL in England & Wales, equivalent to a 15% (95% CI: 14 to 16) increase in YLL compared to the equivalent time period in 2019. There was a strong deprivation gradient in all-cause excess YLL, with rates per 100,000 population ranging from 916 (95% CI: 820 to 1,012) for the least deprived quintile to 1,645 (95% CI: 1,472 to 1,819) for the most deprived. The differences in excess YLL between deprivation quintiles were greatest in younger age groups; for all-cause deaths, an average of 9.1 years per death (95% CI: 8.2 to 10.0) were lost in the least deprived quintile, compared to 10.8 (95% CI: 10.0 to 11.6) in the most deprived; for COVID-19 and other respiratory deaths, an average of 8.9 years per death (95% CI: 8.7 to 9.1) were lost in the least deprived quintile, compared to 11.2 (95% CI: 11.0 to 11.5) in the most deprived. For all-cause mortality, estimated deaths in the most deprived compared to the most affluent areas were much higher in younger age groups, but similar for those aged 85 or over. There was marked variability in both all-cause and direct excess YLL by region, with the highest rates in the North West.
In this study, we observed that longstanding socioeconomic and geographical health inequalities in England & Wales were exacerbated during the first calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the most deprived areas suffering the greatest losses in potential years of life lost.
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