Lucy Dunn Lucy Dunn

Scotland’s avoidable death rate is on the rise

Credit: Andrew Milligan - Pool/Getty Images

Scotland is witnessing a concerning uptick in ‘avoidable’ deaths. With an increase of 4 per cent on the previous year, there were almost 18,000 preventable deaths in Scotland in 2021. As the rising pressures on the NHS continue to expose cracks, this week’s report on avoidable mortality from the National Records of Scotland does little to diffuse concerns.

Things don’t look much rosier when Scotland is compared to the rest of the UK. Although no British data for avoidable deaths in 2021 has been made available yet, historically Scotland has seen the highest rates of avoidable mortality in the UK over the last 20 years. Using the latest comparable data for England and Wales, this trend continues: Scotland is predicted to once again outdo both countries.

In 2021, 63,587 deaths were registered in Scotland. Of these, 17,862 were considered avoidable. Breaking this down further, 12,752 deaths were considered preventable – meaning that public health interventions could have helped stop these deaths – and 5,110 were seen to be as a result of a treatable cause, meaning that earlier treatment and secondary prevention could have helped save these lives. 

Who died prematurely? After adjusting for age, death rates were almost twice as high in males than in females, with the most common causes being cancers and cardiovascular disease, such as stroke or high blood pressure. Deaths caused by Covid also saw a rise on figures from the previous year, however these only make up a small proportion of the overall total.

Unsurprisingly, avoidable deaths in people from the most deprived areas were highest, pointing to the striking health inequalities that remain in Scotland. Some 40 per cent of the most deprived Scots saw a marked increase in avoidable death rates last year, while there was a limited change in the least deprived areas.

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