A case for health equality
While the recently released census report on the Republic’s physical health suggests about six in 10 of the Republic’s population enjoy very good health, this figure masks clear differences based on age, geography and socioeconomic status. Those living in inner cities rate their health the poorest, while those living in the suburbs of our main cities enjoy the best overall health.
Some 95 per cent of people in the highest social class enjoy good or very good health, compared with less than 75 per cent for the lowest social class. And health declines sharply with age; only one in 10 people aged 85 and over describes their health as very good.
Health inequality is the difference in the experience of health among different sections of the population. Although some people will live longer, healthier lives due to hereditary factors, health inequity refers to inequalities which are unnecessary, unjust and avoidable. For example if you come from the lower socio-demographic groups, you are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from arthritis, twice as likely to have heart disease and three times more likely to experience depression.
A 2011 report from the think tank Tasc found the provision of health services can mitigate some health inequalities, as long as these services are accessible, universal and free at the point of delivery. However because of the structure of the health system, certain groups are more vulnerable when recession hits. The 2010 Pfizer Health Index showed a consistent reduction in people’s recent interaction with the health system, especially among skilled manual workers and their families; when feeling unwell, just 66 per cent said they would visit their GP compared to 73 per cent two years previously.
Tasc proposed the Central Statistics Office be given responsibility for preparing regular monitoring reports on health inequalities here and that a Cabinet subcommittee on population health be formed. By implementing these proposals the Government would show a welcome commitment to social justice.