Waiting times for healthcare in Ireland ‘among worst in Europe’

Think-tank rates Netherlands top for health among 35 countries in Europe

The Euro Health Consumer Index 2017 rates Ireland in 24th place, down two places in the index since the previous year.  Photograph: Alan Betson

The Euro Health Consumer Index 2017 rates Ireland in 24th place, down two places in the index since the previous year. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Waiting times for healthcare in Ireland are among the worst in Europe, according to a new analysis of health access in 35 countries.

The Euro Health Consumer Index 2017, published by a private Swedish think tank, rates Ireland in 24th place, down two places in the index since the previous year.

It gives Ireland a score of 630 points on a 1,000-point scale and says that after several years of accepting “official” waiting time statistics, it has begun scoring Ireland on the “much more negative” patients’ versions of waiting times.

The Netherlands tops the list for the best healthcare in Europe with 924 points, according to the survey published by the Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP), followed by Switzerland, Denmark and Norway.

“If countries with limited means can achieve virtual absence of waiting lists – what excuse can there be for countries such as Ireland, the UK, Sweden or Norway to keep having waiting list problems?” the authors ask.

Ireland dropped its ranking for two main reasons.

“In 2017, Ireland is alone in last position for accessibility, with patient organisations steadily giving very pessimistic feedback in the HCP survey,” the report says.

This was “unfortunately” confirmed by the HSE following the release of the 2015 HCP report, when the health authorities here said they were aiming for a target of no more than 18 months’ wait for a specialist appointment.

“Even if and when that target is reached, it will still be the worst waiting time situation in Europe,” the report adds.

“It seems that waiting times for healthcare services are a mental condition affecting healthcare administrators and professionals rather than a scarcity of resources problem.”

Abortion

The report says the tightening of the criteria it used to measure health outcomes also deprived Ireland of some of its previous higher scores.

It says Ireland “no longer has a total ban on abortion”.

“The requirement that a woman wishing an abortion becomes subject to judgment on if the pregnancy should be regarded as a serious health hazard, including suicide risk, is a very minor step indeed towards abortion as a woman’s right, hence the purple [zero] score on [the] indicator,” the authors say.

The Netherlands is “the only country which has consistently been among the top three in the total ranking,” they say.

This is because “the Dutch healthcare system does not seem to have any really weak spots, except possibly some scope for improvement regarding the waiting times situation, where some central European countries excel”.

Better results

The authors say that in spite of financial crisis-induced austerity measures, such as the “much publicised restrictions on the increase of healthcare spend”, European healthcare keeps producing better results.

“Survival rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer are all increasing, even though there is much talk about worsening lifestyle factors such as obesity, junk food consumption and sedentary life.”

The authors warn, however, that the results should be treated “with caution” because here is a shortage of pan-European, uniform set procedures for data gathering.

The HCP said it was “far better to present the results to the public, and to promote constructive discussion rather than staying with the only too common opinion that as long as healthcare information is not 100 per cent complete it should be kept in the closet”.