We need to talk about death

By Richard Jones, Head of Intelligence and Analytics at Liverpool City Council

Anfield Cemetery

“Death. It’s something we try not to think about. We don’t really talk about it. It’s too depressing. Dying young is even worse. It’s painful, it’s difficult to get our heads around, it’s best not to talk about it.”

Yet I think Liverpool should be having a conversation around how many people die in the city (far too many), how they die (around 450 different causes), and can we do anything to prevent some of them (yes).

So, how many of our residents die in Liverpool each year? If I hadn’t monitored the stats for over a decade I’d guess 1,000 give or take. Roughly 3 a day sounds about right. It’s actually 4,500 which is 12 deaths a day. Now if all of these 4,500 people had lived fruitful, fulfilling lives till they were 100 years old and died peacefully at home in their sleep then there wouldn’t be this blog. The key issue for me is how many of these deaths are young deaths, and can they be prevented?

What is a young death? It might not be as young as you think. People who die under the age of 75 in the UK are classed as being a premature death.

I’m from Liverpool and even though I know it’s not right, when I hear of someone I know dying aged 73 for instance, I do subconsciously think that they’ve had a good innings.

I think a lot of us do and it’s a wrong mindset to be in. So how many of the 4,500 deaths in this city are defined as young deaths? It’s 1,800. 4 in 10.

Should we just accept that 4 out of 10 deaths in Liverpool are premature? Could anything be done to prevent any of these? The answer is yes.

Believe it or not out of the 1,800 early deaths, 1,100 could, in an ideal world, be prevented. That’s 6 out of 10. This gives Liverpool the 4th highest preventable mortality rate in England, a rate that is 53% higher than the national average. This is not fair. As a city we should be angry that 3 of our residents die every day from a condition or incident that could have been prevented. This should get us talking.

Over the years I’ve had people tell me that you can’t prevent death. I’ve often been told that “You’ve got to die of something”. Unfortunately this is true…..but let’s die of “something” when we’re really old and not aged 65 hooked up to a respirator. So what are the main deaths that are defined as preventable?

  • Cancer is the main condition….400 preventable deaths a year (30% of all cancer deaths), with lung cancer the big killer with 175 of these
  • Heart disease is next…200 deaths (45% of all deaths)
  • Then chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…145 deaths (40%)
  • Then accidents…100 deaths (62%)
  • And intentional self-harm…50 deaths (100%)

To give some context to these numbers, Liverpool has the 4th highest mortality rate in the country for preventable cancer, respiratory disease (which is also rising), and liver disease, and the 16th highest preventable cardiovascular disease rate (which is also rising). All of this contributes to our residents having the 5th lowest male, and 4th lowest female life expectancy rate in England

The reasons as to why these deaths occur, year-in year-out, are complex, and there isn’t the space here to go into these. For instance, we know that 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, people who smoke know that smoking is bad for them, yet people continue to smoke.

We need to build a city conducive to good health and the City Plan, building on the Inclusive Growth Plan, will outline how this can be done. There is also One Liverpool, a partnership strategy that details how the health and care system can improve the health and wellbeing of people.

What we can do is be shocked by the above statistics, be angry, and most importantly start talking about death.


Richard Jones

Richard has worked in the field of data and intelligence for 25 years. He started with the NHS before moving onto Public Health, and then finally the City Council where he now heads up the Corporate Intelligence and Analytics Team. Richard believes that his team, working closely with partner organisations, can use data more effectively to raise awareness of issues facing residents, inform decision making, change the way services are delivered, and help to tackle the unjust inequalities that our city faces.