Scotland has the highest rate of avoidable death in the UK and the figures are getting worse, BBC analysis has found.
In 2016, the rate stood at 301 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 287 in 2014.
North Ayrshire has the highest avoidable death rate in Scotland, while Shetland has the lowest.
Experts blame social deprivation, with access to alcohol, tobacco and fast food also a factor.
An avoidable death is one that may have been prevented using either healthcare or public health interventions. Those can include conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and drug use disorders.
It means the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is worsening.
NHS Health Scotland has called for action across a range of policy areas to tackle economic and social inequalities, so everyone can thrive in healthy surroundings.
Using official figures, the BBC analysis found:
- Across Scotland, the rate of avoidable deaths in 2016 was 301 per 100,000, a total of almost 16,000 men and women
- The rate is higher for men (376) than women (232)
- North Ayrshire, the fourth most deprived local authority area in Scotland, saw the highest rate – 373 per 100,000 people
A spokesperson for North Ayrshire health and social care partnership said: “Within North Ayrshire, we have significant numbers of working-age adults who are not in work, and whilst our unemployment rate is falling, we are still among the highest in the country.
“It is also the case that currently 4.9% of all deprived data zones in Scotland are in North Ayrshire.
“The higher rates of avoidable mortality in North Ayrshire are inextricably linked to higher levels of deprivation and associated ill-health.”
More affluent areas fared better – the lowest rate in Scotland was in Shetland (185 per 100,000) followed by East Renfrewshire (197).
Dr Andrew Fraser, from NHS Health Scotland, said: “We know that people in poorer areas experience more harm from alcohol, tobacco and fast food than those in more affluent areas. Part of the reason for this is that it is easier to access the things that harm our health in those areas.
“To prevent death, disease and harm we need to take actions where and when they are needed. We must address harm from alcohol, tobacco, being overweight or obese.
“However, these are often common factors, co-existing in communities, groups and individuals, and so we must also address the environment we live in.”
Other countries in the UK had lower overall avoidable death rates. The figure for England was 218 per 100,000, in Wales it was 257 per 100,000 and in Northern Ireland it stood at 241 per 100,000.
However, a more detailed breakdown of the figures within those countries revealed that deprived parts of Belfast have highest avoidable death rate of any area in the UK, at 517 per 100,000 people.
The BBC’s Shared Data Unit analysed public data from the Office for National Statistics (for 2014-16), National Records of Scotland (for 2016) and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (for 2012-16).