Irish over 65s highest consumers of benzodiazepine in OECD

Healthcare quality report finds MMR uptake 3% short of target; hospital antibiotic use increases

People over 65 in Ireland are the highest consumers of benzodiazepine medicine in the OECD, according to a new report published on Monday. Benzodiazepine are prescribed to reduce anxiety and help with sleep.

According to the fifth annual report of the National Healthcare Quality Reporting System (NHQRS), which gives an overview of quality in our health service, Ireland has the highest rate of chronic benzodiazepine prescription in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

By qualification, it notes data was available from 16 of the relevant 34 countries; no figures were available from the remainder. The report also found that benzodiazepine use by women over 65 in Ireland was 40 per cent higher than for men.

Consumption varied greatly across the regions . Of eligible patients over 65 in 2017, 49.1 per 1,000 people were using the drug in Dublin South with 95.3 per 1,000 people using it in Louth.

The report found that the total amount of antibiotics consumed in hospitals has gone up too in the past 10 years, from a 2009 rate of 75.6 defined daily units per 100 bed days used to 89.2 in 2018.

The national five year lung cancer survival rate for those diagnosed between 2011 and 2015 was 19.5 per cent. In the UK it is 13.3 per cent for a similar period.

For cervical cancer the survival rate is 63.6 per cent in Ireland compared to the UK’s 63.8 per cent, or 62.6 in the US. Where breast cancer is concerned the survival rate is 82 per cent, compared to an OECD average of 84.7. In the UK it is 85.6 and the US 90.2, the best internationally.

Meanwhile, Ireland is still falling short when it comes to uptake of the flu vaccine by over 65s. The World Health Organisation target for such uptake is 75 per cent but in Ireland it was 54.5 per cent in 2016 (last year for which figures are available) compared to a lower OECD average of 43.9 pe cent.

It has been estimated that between 200 and 500 older people die from the flu every winter in Ireland while 4,680 were hospitalised with the virus in the 2017/18 season.

Also, only 39 per cent of healthcare workers received the flu vaccine.

Uptake for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine in children was 92 per cent in 2018 where the target is 95 per cent.

The report also found that 86 per cent of people with hip fractures received surgery within two days of admission to hospital while 84 per cent of patients in general felt treated with dignity and respect in hospital.

The OECD is an international organisation that works to build “better policies for better lives”.

Welcoming the report, Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was important to use it " to highlight the areas of healthcare that are performing well. We also must review areas where we can perform better, examine possible causes and take follow up actions".

“For example, there are improvements to be made in our immunisation rates. Vaccine hesitancy is not unique to Ireland. It is a global issue and has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the 10 leading threats to global health in 2019.”

Figures in the report showed “there are varying trends across different counties and shows there can be no room for complacency in this area,” he said.

Jim Breslin, secretary general at the Department of Health, said the report gave "patients and citizens clear information on the performance of their healthcare system, including how we compare internationally."

Director of the National Patient Safety Office Marita Kinsella said it highlighted how "over 90 per cent of hospital patients report that they feel they are involved in the decision making regarding their care in 2018."

She noted that “over the last decade, the decline in mortality rates for stroke has continued, due to improved availability of services and quality improvement initiatives. Cancer survival rates for breast, lung, cervical and colorectal cancer compare favourably against other OECD countries.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times