New research shows that cases of diseases more commonly associated with the Victorian era are increasing in the UK.
Since 2010, hospital visits for scarlet fever, malnutrition, whooping cough and gout are up 3,000 per year, representing a 52% increase.
“It’s very concerning that these conditions, associated with a bygone era, seem to be on the resurgence,” said Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, in a statement.
Data from the UK National Health Service shows that diagnoses of scarlet fever, a leading cause of infant death in the early 1900s, have increased from 429 in 2010-2011 to 1,321 in 2017-2018, a 208% increase.
Whooping cough was nearly eliminated in the UK after a nationwide vaccination program in the 1950s but hospital admissions were up 59% from 2010-2018.
During the same time period, hospital admissions for malnutrition and gout also increased, 54% and 38%, respectively.
The figures were released by the opposition Labour party after researchers analyzed NHS data.
“Dickensian diseases on the rise in Tory Britain today,” said Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, in a statement.
Ashworth blamed government spending cuts, known as austerity, for the development.
“The damning truth is austerity is making our society sicker,” he said. “It means the poor die younger.”
Donovan, who is an independent expert, also said that government spending cuts are partly to blame.
“There are many reasons behind this but one thing that cannot be ignored is the effect of sustained cuts to local authority public health budgets which have caused the services that screen, prevent and protect against illness, and promote good hygiene, to be scaled back,” she said.
Donovan joined Ashworth in criticizing the effects of these cuts.
“As a result, people at risk of diseases we thought were a thing of the past will continue slip through the cracks,” she said. “The government should accept its responsibility for failing the most vulnerable in our society and commit to investing properly in vital public health services.”
Under the UK health care system, access to medical services is supposed to be universal, but regional variations in life expectancy revealed by the research suggest that this is not the case.
“We are facing a national emergency as widening health inequalities blight the land,” Ashworth said.
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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’re committed to giving everyone five extra years of healthy, independent life by 2035 and reducing the gap between the rich and poor. We’ve already made progress, with cancer survival at a record high and smoking rates at an all-time low.
“We’re committed to ensuring everyone gets the same great health care no matter where they live, which is why our Long Term Plan for the NHS puts tackling health inequalities at its heart.”