Irish People are living longer, healthier lives, though access to healthcare remains an issue

Life expectancy in Ireland has increased by almost two and a half years since 2006, with male life expectancy consistently higher than the EU average throughout the last decade.

Much of this increase in life expectancy is due to significant reductions in major causes of death such as circulatory system diseases and cancer. The overall mortality rate has reduced by 14.9% since 2008. As seen in most European countries however, the rate of improvement in Ireland’s life expectancy has begun to slow in recent years.

These trends emerged in 11th edition of Health in Ireland: Key Trends, published by the Department of Health.

The report touches on several areas, including demographics, population health, hospital and primary care, health service efficiency, employment and expenditure, highlights the significant achievements that Ireland has made for key health outcomes in the past decade.

However, it also highlights the challenges that persist in terms of the accessibility of timely and efficient healthcare across the population.

In welcoming the report, the Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “Health in Ireland: Key Trends gives us the opportunity to assess the performance of the Irish health system, and highlights where things are going well, and where we need to improve.

“It also shows the importance of good quality data to health professionals and policy makers alike in providing a high-quality health service for our population as we implement Sláintecare.

The Minister added: “These reports help us shape the way we plan our health service into the future. A striking feature is the growth in the number of people aged over 65. Each year this cohort increases by almost 20,000 people. This trend is set to continue and will have implications for future planning and health service delivery.

“The largest proportional increases in the population in Ireland will be in the category of those aged 85 years and older. The number of people aged 65 and over will grow from one-fifth to over one-third of the working population over the next two decades which will have implications on how we fund our health services. This is a good thing – people are living longer, but we need to ensure they live well.

“In order to be able to provide high-quality services as our population continues to age, we need to have the ability to assess the performance of the health system in a way that ensures that valuable and finite health care resources are used in the most efficient way possible and that people can access high-quality care in a reasonable time. The main aim of any performance assessment should be to improve the health status of the population, with people continuing to live longer, healthier lives.”

Key Trends 2018 presents evidence from across the health sector of the progress made and the challenges that still exist in providing efficient and high-quality healthcare in Ireland. This research provides the background and context for the Department of Health’s work in creating legislation, policy and strategies to address these critical issues. This work is ongoing in the form of Sláintecare, which will work to systematically address these significant challenges to the health care system in the coming decade. Improving provisions for mental health, reducing pressure on health resources, limiting spending increases in the health system, supporting the uptake of generic medicines, and reducing hospital waiting lists are key targets for the coming years.

Twelve things we have learned from this year’s Key Health Trends, published by the Department of Health

  1.        We are living longer
    Over the past decade we have added, on average, 3 months per year to our life expectancy, which is currently standing at 83.6 years for women and 79.9 years for men. (Table 1.6)
  2.        The life expectancy gap between men and women has narrowed from 5.6 years to 3.7 years
    Life expectancy at birth for women in Ireland was 3.7 years longer than for men in 2016; this has improved from a 5.6 year difference in 1996. (Table 1.6)
  3.        Irish men are living longer than their European counterparts

Male life expectancy in Ireland has been above the EU average over the past decade. The life expectancy at birth for men in Ireland has been consistently greater than that of the EU average by over a year (Figure 1.6 and Figure 1.7). Female life expectancy in Ireland matches the EU average.

  1.        Increase in life expectancy is due to significant reductions in major causes of death such as circulatory system diseases and cancer
    This decrease is particularly strong for mortality rates from stroke (-39%), breast cancer (-16%), suicide (-26%) and pneumonia (-39%) (Table 2.4). The overall mortality rate has reduced by 14.9% since 2008.
  2.        We think we are healthier than our European neighbours
    In 2016, 83% of Irish men and women rated their health as good or very good. This is the highest in the EU and compares with an average of 70% and 64% for males and females respectively across the EU. (Figure 2.3)
  3.        We are getting better at curing cancer
    There have been improvements seen in survival rates from breast, cervical, colon and rectal cancer in the last 15 years (Figure 2.11). However, with the exception of rectal cancer, 5-year net survival rates are lower in Ireland than the average for OECD countries where data is available.
  4.        We are seeing a reduction in deaths from suicide
    There has been a 26% reduction in the mortality rate from suicide since 2008. After a rise in the male suicide rate from 2008 to 2012, the three-year moving average has decreased and the latest figures (2015) have fallen below the EU average for the first time since 2010. (Table 2.4, Figure 2.8)
  5.        Men are more inclined to binge drink than women
    Over half of Irish men binge drink on a typical day of drinking, compared to just under 20% of women in 2018. A gender gap is present across all age groups, but the highest rates of binge drinking among the 15-24 age group. (Figure 2.14)
  6.        The average length of hospital stay is 5.6 days
    From 2008 to 2014 the average length of stay decreased by 10.6%. It has since increased by 3.7%, with the average length of stay currently at 5.6 days. (Table 3.1a)
  7.        The number of patients waiting for an Inpatient or Day Case procedure has fallen by 24%
    The total number of patients waiting over 9 months for an inpatient or day case procedure has fallen by 5,300 or 24% since October 2017 to 15,523 as of Oct 2018. (Figure 3.2)
  8.        11am to 2pm on a Monday is the busiest time for Irish emergency departments
    The highest attendances to hospital emergency departments occur between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, with Monday mornings between 11am and 1pm seeing the highest attendance volumes across the week. (Figure 3.5)
  9.        Less than 2% of the population donate blood
    Both the number of blood donations and the percentage of blood donors in the Irish population have declined in the past 5 years. The percentage of blood donors in the population in 2017 was 1.7%. (Figure 4.6)

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