Health spending falling faster in Ireland than elsewhere in Europe
Spending on health in Ireland is falling faster than anywhere else in Europe, according to the latest OECD Health at a Glance report.
Irish health spending dropped by 7.9 per cent, well above the 0.6 per cent average fall recorded in the EU in 2009/2010, the report shows. As the economic downturn worsened, spending contracted further, with a total reduction of €2 billion in recent years.
Despite these cutbacks, Irish health spending remains above the EU average, and even slightly above spending in the UK. Spending on health as a proportion of gross domestic product, at 9.2 per cent, is slightly above the international average.
Ireland has the highest spending on pharmaceuticals in Europe, the survey shows, at €528 per person per year. This is 50 per cent higher than the EU average. The Department of Health has recently concluded an agreement with pharmaceutical manufacturers which it says will knock €400 million off drug costs over the next three years. Overall in Europe, drug spending accounts for one-fifth of all expenditure on health, according to the report.
Ireland has fewer hospital beds than anywhere else in Europe other than the UK and Sweden. Our total is 3.1 beds per 1,000 population, compared with 8.3 in Germany.
The average length of stay is a good measure of how efficiently a hospital is operating. By that yardstick, the Irish system is relatively efficient, with an average stay of 6.1 days, lower than the EU average of 6.9 days. The average Irish mother spends just two nights in hospital after delivering her baby, compared with more than five days in Slovakia and Romania.
Ireland has 3.1 doctors per 1,000 of population, slightly below the EU average and only half the level in Greece. We tend to go to the doctor less often than other Europeans – 3.8 consultations a year against an EU average of 6.3. In contrast to the lack of doctors in Ireland, we have more nurses than anywhere else apart from Denmark and Belgium.
Admission rates in Ireland for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the highest in Europe, as are our rates of post-operative sepsis.
The report says European countries have achieved major gains in population health in recent decades. Life expectancy has increased by six years since 1980 and premature mortality has reduced dramatically.
These improvements are attributed to better access to care and the quality of care, along with improved living and working conditions.
These improvements have come at a considerable financial cost, with health spending growing at a faster rate than the rest of the economy until the financial crisis hit in 2009.
The question now is whether these improvements can be maintained as budgets fall.