Findings from an official inquiry published by the Government this week reveal Britain as the sickest nation among a range of Western countries. The inquiry was ordered by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and shows that on measures of health including infant mortality, life expectancy and cancer deaths, Britain comes at the bottom, or close to it, of the league of nine nations.

The findings are revealed in the interim report by Derek Wanless, who is examining the future financing of the National Health Service. They imply that the health service will face heavy demands for decades.

The report was placed on the Treasury website on Monday, but no press release was issued. The Department of Health press office, which published a White Paper on choice in the health service on the same day, at first appeared unaware of the report.

It shows that Britain has the highest infant mortality, the highest death rate from respiratory diseases and the second highest death rate from cancer in women. It has the second lowest life expectancy and the second highest rate of premature death (before 70) for women. On heart disease Britain comes third from the bottom of the league for both men and women. On other measures, it is at or below average for the nine nations. When The Independent raised the question of Britain's poor performance, the Department of Health issued a statement from John Reid, the Health Secretary. He acknowledged there were "glaring inequalities between different areas", but appeared to undermine the Wanless report by claiming that World Health Organisation figures showed Britain had made bigger health gains against cancer and heart disease than other European countries in the last decade.

The countries against which Britain is compared are Australia, Denmark, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.