(Reuters) – Years of universal healthcare, rising health spending, cancer screening, immunization and anti-smoking laws have failed to stop Britain falling behind its peers in reducing early death and disease, a study showed on Tuesday.

Researchers who compared Britain’s health performance since 1990 with 14 European Union countries plus Australia, Canada, Norway and the United States said its pace of decline in premature death was “persistently and significantly” behind the average – a finding they described as “startling”.

Chris Murray, who led the work at the University of Washington, said Britain’s poor performance was partly due to dramatic increases in Alzheimer’s disease and in drug and alcohol abuse problems, and to a failure to tackle leading killers such as heart disease, strokes and lung diseases.

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