Mortality rates for heart attacks are at best level for a decade

Mortality rates for heart attacks and strokes are the best we have seen in a decade, but our caesarean section rate is at a 10-year high, and the over 65s are shunning the flu vaccine.

This mixed picture of our health is outlined in the fourth annual report of the National Healthcare Quality Reporting System 2018, published yesterday.

The report, an exercise in data collection, with a view to driving improvements in the health sector, shows Ireland is faring well in some areas, for example:

  • The mortality rate for the most common type of stroke has fallen 34% over the past 10 years;
  • The amount of antibiotics being used in the community has been dropping since 2015;
  • Rates of MRSA and C. difficile in our hospitals have been declining for the past decade;
  • Screening rates for breast cancer are consistently above target.

On the downside:

  • Only 40% of eligible patients avail of bowel cancer screening;
  • Immunisation rates for meningitis C and MMR remain below the targeted rates;
  • Carbapenamase-producing Enterobacteriaceae, a superbug, is increasing in our hospitals;
  • Our hospitalisation rate for patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, affecting the lungs) is highest in the OECD (35 countries).

As well as providing international comparisons, the report looks at internal geographical variations. For instance, the hospitalisation rate for COPD in Offaly is almost 2.5 times what it is in Kerry. The report says “the precise reasons for the variation seen between areas require further investigation”.

In the area of cervical cancer prevention, uptake rates for the HPV vaccine vary considerably around the country.

The vaccine, given to schoolgirls, shows an uptake rate of just 40% in Kerry, compared to 74% in South Dublin for the academic year 2016/2017. The report says the variation requires “further investigation at local level”.

The cervical cancer screening uptake rate is close to 80%, well above the OECD average of less than 60%. The percentage uptake in Ireland from 2011-2016 was highest in Carlow at 91.5% and lowest in Laois at 70.8%.

In Ireland, bowel (colon, rectal or colorectal) cancer is the second most common newly diagnosed cancer among men and women and the number of new cases is expected to increase significantly due mainly to an increasing and ageing population.

However only two counties, Donegal and Laoise met the national screening target uptake rate of 50%.

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