Background There are substantial socioeconomic inequalities in both life expectancy and healthcare use in England. In this study, we describe how these two sets of inequalities interact by estimating the social gradient in hospital costs across the life course.
Methods Hospital episode statistics, population and index of multiple deprivation data were combined at lower-layer super output area level to estimate inpatient hospital costs for 2011/2012 by age, sex and deprivation quintile. Survival curves were estimated for each of the deprivation groups and used to estimate expected annual costs and cumulative lifetime costs.
Results A steep social gradient was observed in overall inpatient hospital admissions, with rates ranging from 31 298/100 000 population in the most affluent fifth of areas to 43 385 in the most deprived fifth. This gradient was steeper for emergency than for elective admissions. The total cost associated with this inequality in 2011/2012 was £4.8 billion. A social gradient was also observed in the modelled lifetime costs where the lower life expectancy was not sufficient to outweigh the higher average costs in the more deprived populations. Lifetime costs for women were 14% greater than for men, due to higher costs in the reproductive years and greater life expectancy.
Conclusions Socioeconomic inequalities result in increased morbidity and decreased life expectancy. Interventions to reduce inequality and improve health in more deprived neighbourhoods have the potential to save money for health systems not only within years but across peoples’ entire lifetimes, despite increased costs due to longer life expectancies.
- Health inequalities
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