Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Inequalities in health within the health sector.

British Medical Journal 1989; 299 doi: (Published 30 September 1989) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1989;299:822
  1. R. Balarajan
  1. Epidemiology and Public Health Research Unit, University of Surrey, Guildford.


    Mortality among men employed in the health sector was examined using data surrounding the 1971 (1970-2) and 1981 (1979-83) censuses to assess the differences between social classes in the health service and to study changes over a decade. Relative to men in England and Wales, mortality in the 1980s was significantly lower among dentists (standardised mortality ratio 66), doctors (69), opticians (72), and physiotherapists (79) and significantly higher among hospital porters (151), male nurses (118), and ambulancemen (109). Mortality from lung cancer among hospital porters (185) was more than fivefold that seen in doctors (33) and dentists (37). Ischaemic heart disease varied twofold, being lowest in dentists (60) and doctors (70) and highest in hospital porters (138). Over the decade mortality from lung cancer and ischaemic heart disease declined in all groups except hospital porters, ambulancemen, and orderlies. Most groups showed excess deaths from suicides and cirrhosis of the liver. Differences in mortality between health workers in social class I and those in social class IV widened between the 1970s and 1980s and to a greater extent than among the general population. The high mortality of some groups within the NHS, and the fact that differentials between social classes have widened more than in the general population, suggest that the NHS needs to pay more attention to the health of its own staff.