Deterioration of the nation’s health shows GDP is not fit for purpose as a measure of national success, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA 

Location: England
Last reviewed: 18 March 2022
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Responding to the news that the ONS Health Index in England shows that the nation's health has declined between 2018 and 20191, Professor Neena Modi, president of the BMA, said:

“A healthy population is one of the most important assets we have as a nation, so it’s extremely concerning to see that overall health in England declined between 2018 and 2019, down to levels last seen in 2015. This is a strong indication that health has not been a priority in Government decision-making for some considerable time.

“It is deeply worrying that the biggest driver of decline in the Healthy People domain in 2019 was a fall in the personal wellbeing subdomain, with increased feelings of anxiety among the population. With the psychological impact of the pandemic now also taking a huge toll, mental health services must be supported to give people the help they need.

“It is also shocking that the Health Index shows stark regional inequalities, with the south and east of England having better health between 2015 and 2019 than regions in the north and west of England. This must be addressed by Government in the upcoming Health Disparities White Paper with targeted investment and impactful policies.

“The Health Index data not only measures how healthy people are today but takes a bird’s eye view of what’s on the horizon – assessing how wider economic and social circumstances will affect the next generation’s ability to live healthy lives in the future. It is clear from these data – recorded before the pandemic – that the outlook is bleak without action from across all areas of Government.

“The nation’s health will not start to substantively improve without Government putting health at the heart of decision-making, and to do this, it must move beyond GDP as a measure of national success. GDP only measures the economic value of all final goods and services produced by a country, but not our health, which is essential to the nation’s wellbeing and prosperity. The Health Index shows that action across the whole of Government is needed to reverse these trends which indicate that the population will become increasingly affected by poor health. Above all, this includes preventive health actions in areas – such as education, housing, air quality, and healthy diets - which are crucial components of the multi-faceted approach needed.

“If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that the vibrancy of the economy is dependent upon a healthy population. Without focusing on health, the economy will pay, and a healthy and prosperous future for our nation will be difficult, if not impossible, to secure. The Government must recognise the implications of these findings and put health at the heart of all policy and decision-making.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. The Health Index provides a single value for health, illustrating how health changes over time, and the specific topics that show what is driving these changes. As well as providing the headline measure of health, the Index can be broken down into domains. At present, the domains split the Health Index into three broad areas:
  • Healthy People – focusing on health outcomes  
  • Healthy Lives – health related behaviours and personal circumstances 
  • Healthy Places – wider determinants of health, environmental factors 

In addition to the above, the Health Index also provides a measure of health for local authority and enables comparison between geographical areas.

To interpret the data, a score of 100 in any year means health levels are equal to the health of England in 2015. A higher score means health is improving, and a lower score means health is declining. For every 10 points higher or lower than 100, a score is 1 standard deviation above or below England’s 2015 score.