OECD health figures are a real challenge

OECD health figures are a real challenge
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

There is a sense, but only time will tell if it’s more than wishful thinking, that some of the shibboleths that choked this society for so very long are, a full century after we achieved independence, being shaken off.

Three lighthouse events, each unimaginable even a decade ago, reflect a society determined to move towards the warm, energising sunshine a real, pro-active, enriching republic promises.

The rejection of the Eighth Amendment was the headline moment in this evolution.

The appointment of a Garda commissioner from outside the force is another once-unthinkable milestone.

The determination that our new national maternity hospital should reflect all of society and not just one strand of it is another.

Yet, some citadels still seem almost impregnable. Just over 90% of first-level schools are still controlled by a declining Catholic Church.

The farm and food lobby retain the power to have the Government endorse a growth policy that is both unwise and imposes a disproportionate burden on our natural resources.

The market, in this instance, encouraged by bankers, developers, and misguided Government policy have created a shameful housing crisis.

The list, as anyone who really cares for this society, is long, too long for a high-summer Saturday but this week’s report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) cannot be swept under the carpet, the standard Irish solution to an Irish problem.

The OECD did not reveal anything new but reinforced the urgent need for radical, unprecedented reform of our health service and how it uses resources.

The organisation found that we spend one third more than the average across the 35 member countries of the OECD — €4,706 for every soul in this small country. This investment was the seventh highest per person in the OECD last year.

Despite this well-above-average overall spend we stand in 27th out of 35 in terms of health spending as a percentage of GDP — we spend just 7.1% of GDP spent on health.

This, according to the OECD points to another curiousity of our economy.

The economic output of Ireland is not necessarily available for residents because some of it is exported, because of the international companies who have their headquarters in Ireland, such as Facebook and Google, says the agency.

Our huge bank debts must also be a significant factor. Despite this well-above-average overall spend we have, as any health professional will concede, less than average outcomes.

This divergence was addressed by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe this week when he warned senior health managers will have to be more accountable. Mr Donohoe insisted increased spending depends on this change.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was also critical, saying our health service is not working well and that healthcare reform was the biggest challenge in the public service. He also suggested the €15bn budget was “hard to justify” given Ireland’s relatively youthful population.

None of these details are novel but what may be novel is the determination to resolve them. We cannot, financially or morally, afford not to conclusively confront this shibboleth.

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