Healthcare gap widens between haves and have-nots


Pfizer Health Index shows inequalities will continue to grow as recession hits household budgets, writes RONAN McGREEVY

THE RECESSION will make health inequalities in Ireland worse, with growing evidence that people are opting out of medical services they have to pay for, new survey results suggest.

The annual Pfizer Health Index report, which surveys more than 1,000 Irish adults every year, has found that people are visiting their GPs and taking screening tests less often, while not attending hospitals as much.

The most vulnerable section of society is the so-called C2s or skilled manual workers who constitute nearly a quarter of the population and have been especially hard hit by the recession.

More than a third of them (34 per cent) have neither a medical card nor health insurance as against a figure of 25 per cent of the population as a whole.

Among the middle class, the number with private health insurance remains high at 64 per cent.

The 2010 results show an across-the-board decline, whether in terms of visiting the GP for a check-up (71 per cent in 2010 compared with 75 per cent in 2008), going for a voluntary medical screening (44 per cent in 2010 compared with 48 per cent in 2008) and going into hospital for a medical procedure or operation (16 per cent in 2010 compared with 19 per cent in 2008). The fall-off was most pronounced among those in the C2 category.

Prof Kevin Balanda, associate director in the Institute of Public Health, said the results indicated a trend which would exacerbate existing health inequalities.

He said disadvantaged people suffered disproportionately when health promotion and prevention budgets and primary care were cut.

“These results show evidence of emerging trends indicating that the gap in health status between the social groups is unfortunately likely to be exacerbated in the coming years,” he said.

“What has emerged over the last five years is that people from lower social gradients are making greater reductions in non-discretionary spending.”

According to the survey, health inequalities are quite pronounced, with half of all people in the lowest socio- demographic group (DE) suffering from a health condition compared with 36 per cent of people in the higher socio-demographic group (ABC1).

People from lower socio-demographic groups are 2.5 times more likely to suffer from arthritis, twice as likely to have heart disease and three times more likely to be affected by depression.

Prof Balanda said Ireland was a mid-ranking country in the EU in terms of health inequality, with differences being most pronounced in the newer member states.

He stressed that that there was a lack of quality information available for Ireland as there was no established mechanism in place to measure levels of health inequality here.