European heart report highlights unhealthy Irish lifestyles

Index also mentions ‘notorious’ waiting lists as holding back progress in State

European Heart Index points to “alarming” obesity levels as evidence of Irish people’s unhealthy habits. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Irish people’s unhealthy lifestyles as well as our “notorious” waiting lists are holding back progress in improving heart care, according to the European Heart Index.

The index, which ranks cardiovascular healthcare systems in 30 countries, points to “alarming” obesity levels, high alcohol and sugar consumption, and low fruit and vegetable intake as evidence of Irish people’s unhealthy living habits.

Ireland is ranked 12th, behind leaders France and Norway, and the study says our heart care “works, although lifestyle factors present a problem”.

Heart care is improving across Europe but in almost every country gaps in provision threaten equity, the report says. Equal access to basic heart medication would save tens of thousands of lives, it points out.


"The Irish system works efficiently and is co-ordinated, offering good services, but with some problems because of the notorious waiting list problems", Dr Beatriz Cebolla, director of the index, remarked.

Ireland scores highly in the index for standards of hospital treatment, access to drugs and tobacco-control measures. It ranks among the worst countries for access to services, sugar and alcohol consumption and the amount of physical exercise provided in schools.

The report says smoking bans introduced in countries such as Ireland and France are being circumvented through the use of covered outdoor patio areas where people can smoke.

In 12 countries – though not Ireland – cancer is now a bigger killer than heart disease as a result of improvements made in cardiovascular care.

PPCI services gap

The report says in emergency situations, PPCI (primary percutaneous coronary intervention) should be performed within 90 minutes of arrival at the heart attack centre and within 120 minutes of a patient’s call for professional help.

The nonavailability of PPCI services on a round-the-clock basis in the southeast has been the subject of major political controversy in the region. Specialised facilities at University Hospital Waterford operate only during daytime hours, five days a week.

The report says PPCI centres with cardiac catheterisation labs, with trained staff and open 24-7 can have a substantial impact on mortality rates. “Primary PCI use is increasing very quickly in Europe but huge gaps remain. The number of PPCI centres is still very uneven between countries. In some countries, and even more in some regions, in Europe it is still difficult to access services 24-7.”

The index is produced by Brussels-based Health Consumer Powerhouse with funding from drug firm Amgen Europe.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.