Health check

Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 01:00

The latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on health is an opportunity for the Republic to measure its performance against other member states. Covering as it does some of the years of the economic recession it came as no surprise to learn that health spending per capita here fell sharply. Between 2009 and 2011, this spend fell by 6.6 per cent, second only to Greece in the size of the budgetary drop recorded across 34 OECD countries.

This drop in health spending reflected substantial reforms in Ireland, the Health at a Glance 2013 report notes, including cuts to health sector wages and the cost of pharmaceutical products. But areas such as public health and prevention have also been cut back, with the authors noting that in several member countries, patients must now assume a greater share of health costs.

We continue to perform poorly relative to other states when it comes to the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Average intake of alcohol has increased slightly in the past 20 years in contrast to some European neighbours such as France and Portugal, where traditionally high consumption levels have dropped significantly. And while the data in the report on smoking is somewhat dated, the decline in smoking here has been less than in other countries.

There is good news too: over the past two decades deaths due to cancer in Ireland fell by over 20 per cent, while deaths from heart attacks and strokes have both dropped by well over a half. In all three instances, the rate of decline was greater than the OECD average, which is impressive. Gains such as these are hard won and reflect years of continuous investment in targeted services and prevention programmes. With continued cuts to the health budget showing no signs of levelling off, there must be concern about how our outcome statistics for cancer, cardiac disease and mental health will look in the medium term. The Government must heed the OECD message, patient safety and care quality can be improved.