Letters Monitoring health inequalities

Loss of Office for National Statistics data will increase health inequalities

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7034 (Published 27 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7034
  1. Rahul (Tony) Rao, consultant and visiting researcher1
  1. 1South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust/Institute of Psychiatry, North Southwark Community Team for Older People, Chaucer Unit, London SE16 2TH, UK
  1. tony.rao{at}kcl.ac.uk

I have spent the past 15 years using data from the Office for National Statistics to inform policy and improve service delivery in relation to the growing trend of alcohol misuse in older people (www.alcoholandolderhealth.co.uk).1 These data have led to the publication of a landmark report and series of articles that include epidemiological and demographic aspects of the morbidity and mortality related to this misuse,2 3 4 and any proposal to cut off such a supply of invaluable information would be devastating.

Easy access to an overview of trends in ill health and its social determinants lies at the heart of improving health and social outcomes. I wholeheartedly agree that devolving the collection of such data to other agencies may result in the loss of true objectivity.

To take alcohol related hospital admissions for older people in London as an example. The proportion of this age group admitted with mental and behavioural problems associated with alcohol is clearly related to indices of multiple deprivation, with Islington, Lambeth, and Southwark among the top five boroughs for such admissions. However, pertinent observations do not end there, because there are also complex associations with ethnicity and “microcosms” of alcohol misuse concentrated within particular boroughs.5 In my catchment area, for example, more than 80% of referrals for alcohol misuse are within a half mile radius of the Elephant and Castle, which has seen huge social upheaval over the past 50 years.

Health inequalities in the UK will be left to languish if independent and robust data on risk factors for ill health are lacking. The loss of Office for National Statistics data will certainly be a step in the wrong direction.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7034


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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