Healthcare: unflattering comparisons

Without political action, our sclerotic health system will continue to fail its staff and society

 

A finding that men and women in the Republic are living on average five years more today than they were in 2000 is good news indeed. Largely driven by a reduction in the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease, the longevity data has emerged as part of a major new OECD/EU study.

The authors credit the Republic’s health system with being “relatively effective in treating people with threatening conditions”. It is certainly one of the reasons people in Ireland, along with other western European countries, enjoy eight years greater life expectancy than do EU citizens of central and eastern Europe.

But our gains have been achieved despite some adverse findings about the health service here: the number of hospital beds per capita in Ireland is half the EU average at 2.6 per 1,000 population, and the State is fifth from the bottom of the EU league for the number of doctors per head (2.9 per 1,000 compared to 3.6 across the EU). Healthcare professionals here are working hard to achieve public health gains against the odds of poor infrastructure.

There is also criticism of our “two-tier” model of access to healthcare, leading to sharp differences in outcomes for those in lower socioeconomic groups. With less than half the Republic’s population having access to free primary care, this is the only western European country that does not offer universal coverage of primary care.

A comment on hospital waiting times is especially apposite: the low availability of beds, combined with the relatively high hospitalisation rates for conditions that should normally be treated in primary care settings, contribute to a very high occupancy rate: 95 per cent of all hospital beds in acute care are occupied on average throughout the year. This is much higher than the EU average (77 per cent) and leaves little capacity to handle emergency situations, except by postponing elective procedures.

It is clear that, without political action, our sclerotic health system will continue to fail its staff and society.

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