Think tank claim more should be spent on healthcare

An economic think tank has claimed there is no compelling evidence to show Ireland spends too much on healthcare and contends that more needs to be spent, albeit more effectively.

The Nevin Economic Research Institute (Neri) pointed out that it is the ratio of outcomes to spend that matters and not the size of the spend itself.

“What matters is how healthy people are and how long they live,” said Neri director Tom Healy. “However, resources clearly do matter and availability of highly qualified and experienced staff as well as timely access to screening, diagnosis and intervention does matter and does save lives and improve health outcomes.”

Mr Healy said a comparison of total spending (public and private) relative to GDP showed Ireland is not much different to similar EU countries. He said commentators who claim this country overspends on health focus on spending as a percentage of gross national income instead of GDP “in spite of the fact that all income counted in GDP is taxable and therefore relevant to public spending”.

He said some would claim health spending should not be even at the average here as Ireland has a relatively young population compared to most other OECD countries.

“Even still, the fact that we are above or below the average does not say anything about how efficiently spent that money is,” said Mr Healy.

“A country might spend a lot on health but record high levels of ill-health especially among the poorer in its population. Many factors are relevant to health outcomes including culture, lifestyles, education, public awareness and inequality.”

“The existence of a two-tier health service based on ability to pay may actually further increase total spending as is the case in the USA. This is apart from the morality of a two-tier system.

“To put it bluntly, waiting 12 months for a colonoscopy in the public system may be fatal whereas getting a referral and quick procedure through a consultant through the private insurance route can make all the difference.”

Mr Healy said spending on preventive care, where Ireland spends less than other comparator countries as well as mental health services and community health care, “will take more money and not less against the background of a tight ‘fiscal space’ ”.

“We need to invest more in health but we need to spend more wisely,” he said.

“A move towards a universal health service based on need rather than ability to pay could free up precious consultant resources and refocus on key areas of need.”

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