People living in the north of England are 20 per cent more likely to die prematurely than those in the South, research suggests.

Experts who analysed data from 1965 to 2008 found those living in the North are a fifth more likely to die under the age of 75, despite government efforts to bridge the gap.

This figure has “changed little between 1965 and 2008”, according to researchers writing in the British Medical Journal.

In an accompanying editorial, experts warned: “The North is being decimated at the rate of a major city every decade.”

The number of excess deaths among all age groups has been 14 per cent higher in the North than in the South over the last four decades, the research showed.

Inequality has been greater for men (15 per cent) than for women (13 per cent).

Experts analysed trends for English government office regions, looking at the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and West Midlands compared with the East of England, London, the South East and South West.

They found that the wide gap between the North and South has remained despite the fact the overall death rate has fallen dramatically since 1965 - by about 50 per cent for men and about 40 per cent for women, regardless of where they live.

The authors, from the University of Manchester school of community based medicine and Manchester City Council’s joint health unit, concluded: “These findings point towards a severe, long-term and recently worsening structural health problem in the geography of England, which may not have received the attention it requires from government policy and which has been resistant to specific policies to reduce inequalities in health or regenerate local communities.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Everyone should have the same opportunity to lead a healthy life, no matter where they live or who they are.

“The government has made it clear that reducing health inequalities is a priority as part of its commitment to fairness and social justice.

“This means tackling the wider, social causes of ill health and early death as well as addressing individual healthy lifestyles.

“That is why we are driving ahead with the Inclusion Health programme, which will focus on improving access and outcomes for vulnerable groups, and have set up a national board that will be chaired by professor Steve Field.

“We are also providing a ringfenced public health budget, weighted towards the most deprived areas, to ensure resources are spent on preventative work, with incentives to improve the health of the poorest, the fastest.”