A total of 1.5 million years of potential life has been lost following the deaths of 146,000 Covid victims, according to a sobering new analysis that comes one year since the start of the UK’s national lockdown.
Alongside deaths, the wider health of the nation has been severely impacted with millions waiting for NHS surgery, including tens of thousands of cancer patients. There are also fears over a mental health crisis and widening inequality worsening the health of poorer communities.
On Tuesday, the nation will pause to mark 12 months since the start of the most serious crisis to hit Britain since the Second World War, and to remember the thousands of people whose deaths have been linked to the virus.
Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, described the impact of Covid on the UK as a “bombshell of mortality”, warning its effects would be far-reaching on society and health. She also warned the government that failing to invest now for the longer-term health of the nation would cause a “drag on the economy” and would undermine the prime minister’s levelling up agenda.
She added: “Ten years is quite a lot of Christmases that you might have had with your relative or your friend and I think this might help people realise this has also affected people who are younger too.”
The Health Foundation calculated more years of life were lost for men, 825,000 compared to 670,000 for women.
Despite people in poorer parts of England having a lower life expectancy, they were twice as likely to have died from Covid-19, meaning 45 per cent more years of life were lost in the poorest 20 per cent of areas.
Compared with flu, the Health Foundation said Covid took far more years of life. Flu claims 250,000 years, only a sixth of the total loss due to Covid in the past 12 months.
In an interview with The Independent, Dr Dixon warned the pandemic would cast a long shadow across the UK in terms of direct and indirect effects on people’s health, mental health and wider determinants of health such as their employment and housing.
She said: “I think if levelling up is to mean anything, it can’t just be a short term infrastructure fix. It’s got to be a longer-term social policy fix as well.
“Investment in the NHS is not a drain on resources. It is the basic platform on which we launch flourishing Britain and without which it’ll be a drag on the economy, it will be a drag on cultural and social rise, it will be a drag on productivity and all the things we say we want.”
At midday on Tuesday there will be a minute’s silence to remember the lives lost during the last 12 months.
Boris Johnson is expected to mark the event privately in Downing Street.
He said: “The last 12 months has taken a huge toll on us all, and I offer my sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Today, the anniversary of the first lockdown, is an opportunity to reflect on the past year – one of the most difficult in our country’s history.
“We should also remember the great spirit shown by our nation over this past year. We have all played our part, whether it’s working on the frontline as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, homeschooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It’s because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all.”
More than 4 million Britons have tested positive for the virus, although the true number could be substantially higher. The impact of the virus brought the NHS to its knees, with tens of thousands of operations cancelled across the UK and makeshift intensive care units set up to look after critically ill patients.
There are now more than 300,000 patients waiting over a year for treatment with the NHS waiting list at a record total of 4.7 million.
There were 5.9 million fewer referrals made by GPs in 2020 sparking fears over patients deteriorating without treatment. The NHS Confederation has warned if only two thirds of these patients join the official waiting list, it could result in a list 8 million strong by the autumn of 2021.
There are also fears for cancer patients, with charities warning death rates could rise due to delays in treatment. In January, there was an 11 per cent drop in urgent cancer referrals from GPs compared to a year before. Across 2020, cancer charities has estimated 44,000 fewer people were treated for the disease.
Last week the government gave the NHS an additional £6.6bn to cope with the costs of coronavirus.
The Office for National Statistics said Covid-19 had caused more deaths in 2020 than other infectious diseases caused in a century.
Meanwhile the cost of supporting the economy and running the furlough scheme has seen the UK spend more than £407bin to combat the effects of the virus, sending debt levels soaring to 98 per cent of GDP – levels not seen since the 1960s.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing said: “After a year of sacrifices and gestures, great and small, we are taking our turn to thank the public. In a time of loss and fear, they helped us to keep digging deeper.
“We will take a day to remember and reflect – as much about the future we want as the year we’ve had.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 director at Public Health England said: “This virus has left no one untouched and it has been the most challenging time both personally and professionally that many of us have ever faced.
“I want to say thank you today to all the public health professionals and key workers who have worked long and difficult hours to help keep the country safe. The commitment you have shown is an inspiration to us all.”