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Ireland, Estonia and Greece hardest hit as European healthcare spending falls

First decrease in overall EU spend since 1975

Health at a Glance: Europe 2012

Overall health spending in Europe has fallen for the first time since 1975, with Ireland, Estonia and Greece reporting the greatest declines.

Health at a Glance: Europe 2012, a new joint report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Commission (EC), says that health spending per person in the EU during by 2010 fell by 0.6 per from the previous year.

This compared to an average annual growth rate of 4.6 per cent between 2000 and 2009.

Austerity measures have hit Europe hard during the past four years as countries try to balance their budgets while coping with the economic crisis, and it was no surprise to see some of the worst affected nations among those with the sharpest drop in healthcare growth.

Ireland was bottom, with healthcare spending falling 7.9 per cent between 2009 and 2010 after a decade during which spending rose at an average annual rate of 6.5 per cent.

Next was Estonia with a decrease of 7.3 per cent, while Greece, which has been the country that has produced the most headlines during regarding austerity measures, reported a drop in healthcare spending of 6.7 per cent between 2009 and 2010.

Spain, another country which has had to cut back a great deal these past few years, only reported a decrease of 0.9 per cent. However, most of the country's spending cuts have only been implemented since the appointment of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative People's Party in 2011, meaning more recent figures are likely to be significantly higher.

According to the EC, public health and prevention programmes are particularly at threat, with governments prioritising acute care.

This could have serious consequences in the coming years, however, with the report highlighting that preventing diseases can be a far more cost-effective option than just treating them.

Despite this, public health and prevention spending took a 3.2 per cent drop in 2010, meaning such measures as immunisation and anti-smoking programmes only accounted for 3 per cent of the total EU healthcare budget.

Rising levels of obesity were also cited as a major healthcare challenge in the EC/OECD's report, with more than half of adults in the EU now deemed overweight, and 17 per cent medically obese.

The figures were even worse in specific countries, such as the UK and Hungary, where a quarter of all adults were reported to be obsese, with disadvantaged social groups particularly affected.

“The growth in overweight and obesity rates among adults is a major public health concern,” said the report.

“Because obesity is associated with higher risks of chronic illnesses, it is linked to significant additional healthcare costs.”

It's a problem that looks set to continue, with the report finding rising levels of childhood obesity - even if overweight children do lose weight once they reach adulthood, health concerns persist.

“Evidence suggests that even if excess childhood weight is lost, adults who were obese children retain an increased risk of cardiovascular problems,” said the report.

Other key findings in the report include a greater prevalence of chronic disease, such as asthma, diabetes and dementia, with the report suggesting this is either due to better diagnosis or more underlying disease.

There are also a larger number of doctors and nurses per capita in most countries, although there are also concerns about possible shortages of nurses in the future due to an increasing demand for their services and a large number of “baby boomers” due to retire soon.

20th November 2012

From: Healthcare

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