Waiting times for emergency treatment in Irish hospitals are the worst in Europe, according to a new report.
It also found waiting times for minor operations and CT scans were among the longest of 35 countries surveyed.
Overall, the Irish health system ranks 21st in the 2015 Euro Health Consumer Index, up one place from 2014 but down from 14th in 2013. Lower-income countries such as Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia all rank ahead of Ireland in the index, which is led by the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The report analyses the performance of national healthcare systems across 48 indicators, including patient rights, access to care, treatment outcomes, range of services and use of pharmaceuticals.
Compiled by private Swedish firm Health Consumer Powerhouse, it relies on a combination of statistics, patient polls and research.
Ireland scores particularly badly on access to health services, based on feedback provided by patient organisations. Waiting times are found to be “frequently more than three hours” more often here than anywhere else in Europe.
The report is being published today as overcrowding in emergency departments continues to place the health service under strain. The HSE said 391 patients were on trolleys yesterday morning, of whom 210 had been waiting over nine hours.
The index ranks Ireland second worst in Europe for direct access to a specialist, without GP referral. We come fourth last for non-acute operations carried out within 90 days and for the number of cataract operations performed, and eighth lowest for the proportion of non-acute CT scans carried out within a week.
Ireland also ranks worst in Europe for binge drinking and is third from the bottom in terms of the number of hours of physical activity in schools.
However, our smoking rates are among the lowest and Ireland is rated highly for access to essential drugs. The report also praises the “real improvement” and “dedicated effort” involved in halving the rate of MRSA infection in Ireland between 2008 and 2015.
The fact that Ireland has the highest percentage of population purchasing duplicate healthcare insurance “presents a problem”. The report questions whether this should be interpreted as an “extreme case of dissatisfaction” with the public system or one prompted by tax issues.
The report says Ireland no longer has a total abortion ban after the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, but adds this was a “very minor step”.