Covid caused massive fall in life expectancy, OECD report says

Levels of anxiety and depression more than doubled compared to pre-crisis levels

Funeral house employees wheel a coffin on a trolley at the University Emergency Hospital morgue in Bucharest, Romania, as they  transfer a Covid-19 patient’s remains for burial. Photograph: AP

Funeral house employees wheel a coffin on a trolley at the University Emergency Hospital morgue in Bucharest, Romania, as they transfer a Covid-19 patient’s remains for burial. Photograph: AP

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a massive fall in life expectancy across developed nations, as well as “huge” mental health problems, according to an international report.

Life expectancy fell in 24 of 30 countries with comparable data, the annual OECD Health at a Glance report finds. The biggest drops were in the US and Spain, where 1.6 years and 1.5 years was taken off average life expectancy.

However, no figures are provided for excess deaths and changes in life expectancy in Ireland during the pandemic, or for the incidence of anxiety and depression. The reporting of excess deaths in Ireland throughout the pandemic has been hindered by the slow rate at which deaths are registered.

The report says Covid-19 contributed to a 16 per cent increase in the expected number of deaths in 2020 and the first half of 2021 across OECD countries.

Levels of anxiety and depression more than doubled compared to pre-crisis levels in most countries, most notably in Mexico, the UK and the US.

With 1,007 Covid-19 deaths per 1 million population, Ireland is close to the OECD average of 1,285. New Zealand recorded just five deaths per million, while Hungary had the highest mortality, at 3,070 deaths per million.

Covid-19 deaths in Ireland among older people (over-60s and over-80s) were also close to average for the OECD.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland relative to population was also close to the OECD average, and about half that recorded in the US, Israel or the Czech Republic.

Hospital Report

Confirmed cases in hospital Confirmed cases in ICU
824 79

The 74.2 per cent of the Irish population vaccinated at the time the report was compiled was significantly higher than the OECD average of 60 per cent.

The impact of Covid-19 on other health services is exemplified by the increase in the waiting time for hip replacement surgery; up in Ireland from 103 days in 2019 to 188 days last year. However, the waiting time for knee replacement surgery dropped from 49 days to 35 days.

For cataract surgery, average wait times increased from 107 days to 161 days between 2019 and 2020.

Among the changes wrought by the pandemic was a rise in telemedecine; 60 per cent of Irish people reported having an online or phone consultation, the fourth highest figure internationally.

Ireland has the third highest incidence of cancer in the OECD, according to the report, and mortality from cancer is also well above average.

Ireland is close to the OECD average for life expectancy, avoidable mortality, rates of smoking and drinking and obesity. It is also about average for breast screening rates, mortality after a heart attack.

About 3.2 per cent of Irish people rate their health as poor; only New Zealand and Canada have lower figures. And at 3.2 per cent, the recorded prevalence of diabetes in Ireland is lower than in any of the other countries.

Deaths from air pollution are low relative to the OECD average, as are infant mortality rates.

However, Ireland has the highest level of avoidable hospital admission for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

As for resources, we are close to the OECD average on health spending, hospital bed numbers, and the number of doctors and nurses employed. Ireland had the fifth lowest number of critical care beds.

Irish GPs earn 2.8 times the average wage; for specialists the ratio is 3.5.

Ireland produces more medical graduates than any other OECD country, but as the report notes this is largely due to the large share of international medical students studying here.

“After obtaining their first medical degree, these international medical students in many cases leave Ireland – either because they prefer to complete their training and practise in their home country or because they have difficulty securing an internship. Paradoxically, this means that Ireland needs to import doctors trained in other countries to address doctor shortages.”

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