HEALTH AND IRELAND - The data which reveals a true picture of our health

Death rates from breast cancer are highest in Waterford, the suicide rate in Cork City outstrips anywhere else, and Limerick City has the highest infant mortality rate.

These are among the findings of an Irish Examiner data-mining exercise, the results of which are laid bare in our special county-by-county report unveiled today.

Comparing the statistics for each county across roughly 20 health categories, we found:

-Carlow has the highest incidence and death rates for lung cancer;

-Cork City has the highest incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer;

-Tipperary, Limerick, Laois, Cavan and Mayo have the highest death rate from diseases of the circulatory system (includes heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke);

-Longford has the highest percentage of low birth weight babies;

-Sligo has the highest rate of admissions to hospital for respiratory disease;

-Meath has the lowest number of GPs per 100,000 population;

-The numbers accessing treatment for problem alcohol use are highest for Waterford;

-16% of people in Donegal are obese.

Two counties that appear to have less to worry about when it comes to health are Kildare and Meath: neither features heavily in the areas of major disease in the statistics presented here. This may explain why a higher percent of people (90%+) living in these two commuter-belt counties ranked their health as either “good” or “very good” in a survey carried out by the Central Statistics Office.

Many of the statistical variations are hard to explain. The Health Research Board (HRB), which collates figures on numbers accessing drug-treatment services, attempted to shed light on why the statistics for treatment of problem alcohol use in Waterford dwarf figures for counties such as Clare. It may be, the HRB said, that there is a “genuine difference in people presenting for treatment” or it could be the result of incomplete reporting by some of the services, or a combination of both.

In the area of cancer, the National Cancer Registry (NCR) said cancer incidence information subdivided into many regions “will always show some differences”. Chair of the NCR board Dr Susan O’Reilly said the differences were “not relevant or significant if they lie within the range of statistical probability (confidence intervals) for the entire country”.

She said the “main message” for the public is that at least 85% of lung cancers are related to cigarette smoking.

“We recommend smokers talk to their GPs and check the HSE website quit.ie or call the National Smokers Quit Line on 1800 201 203 to help kick the habit,” Dr O’Reilly said.

Commenting on infant mortality rates, Professor Michael Turner, HSE clinical lead for obstetrics and gynaecology, and UCD Professor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Coombe where he heads up the centre for human reproduction, said the statistics needed to be interpreted with “extreme caution”.

“These [CSO] figures are not adjusted for risk, eg there is higher risk in inner city populations where there are usually more smokers, more deprivation, and women of a different age profile, and so they may not reflect hospital practices,” Prof Turner said.

He said there were often natural variations in the figures over time.

Click here to see how your county fares

HEALTH AND IRELAND - The data which reveals a true picture of our health


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