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‘Dickensian’ illnesses on the rise, NHS figures show

‘Dickensian’ illnesses on the rise, NHS figures show

Diseases more commonly associated with Victorian times have increased sharply since 2010, NHS figures have revealed.

Illnesses such as scarlet fever, malnutrition, whooping cough and gout have risen by 52% - the equivalent of 3,000 extra cases per year. The surge has been attributed partly to poverty and cuts to public health budgets, with an increased resistance to some antibiotics also thought to be a factor. The figures come from the NHS Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity, which reports on patient admissions in English NHS hospitals.

Scarlet fever, for which there is no vaccination, was the leading cause of infant deaths in the early 20th. Cases of scarlet fever spiked in 2014 and have continued to climb since, with a staggering 208% increase recorded in a decade. Meanwhile hospital admissions for whooping cough - which was nearly eradicated in the 1950s - have risen by 59%.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told LBC Radio: “We’ve seen these huge increases in the Dickensian diseases from a bygone era that we thought we’d defeated, which seem to be making a comeback. Scarlet fever is caused by a bacteria that can be life-threatening and is very serious stuff, as is whooping cough.

“Gout is incredibly painful and we’ve also seen an increase in admissions to hospital for malnutrition. This comes at a time we’ve seen an explosion in foodbanks, so these diseases are making a comeback against a backdrop of austerity.”

Last February, Public Health England issued a warning to parents to be vigilant of signs of scarlet fever, which include a sore throat, headache, fever and a distinct pinkish-red ‘sandpaper’ rash. Also known as scarlatina, the illness can lead to complications such as pneumonia and in 2018 reached a 50-year high in some parts of the UK, including Devon, the East Midlands, Yorkshire, the Humber and Swansea.

Scarlet fever tends to be seasonal and spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Anyone diagnosed is advised to stay at home for at least 24 hours after a course of antibiotics has begun. If you think you or your child is showing signs, contact your GP or call the NHS helpline.