Irish patients ‘wait longer for treatment’ than rest of Europe

Irish patients have to wait longer for hospital treatment than those in any other European country, a report shows.

Ease of access to healthcare in Ireland is the worst of 35 countries surveyed. Even vastly poorer nations such as Macedonia and Serbia provide much faster treatment, according to the 2017 Euro Health Consumer Index.

Ireland has fallen to 24th place overall — down from 21st in 2016 — and is second worst, after Romania, on a value for money measure.

The Netherlands once again leads the rankings, followed by Switzerland.

Compiled by the private Swedish firm Health Consumer Powerhouse, the annual report analyses the performance of national healthcare systems across 48 indicators, including patient rights, access to care, treatment outcomes, range of services, and use of drugs.

Ireland drops in the index mainly because of long waiting lists.

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

It notes that, after its 2015 report, Irish health authorities set a target of no patient having to wait longer than 18 months 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 says, while pointing out that, despite high overall rankings, Norway and Sweden also have long waiting lists for treatment.

It contrasts this with the situation in Serbia, which is on course to eliminating waiting lists.

The report asks: “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?”

It adds that there is no correlation between accessibility to healthcare and the amount of money spent on it.

“It is inherently cheaper to run a healthcare system without waiting lists than having waiting lists,” says the report. “Contrary to popular belief, not least among healthcare politicians, waiting lists do not save money — they cost money.”

Meanwhile, the survey notes: “Ireland no longer has a total ban on abortion,” adding that “the requirement that a woman wishing an abortion becomes subject to judgement 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 women’s right.”

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