Health service jumps up Euro table despite delays
PATIENTS are still waiting too long for surgery and cancer treatment, but our health service has surged up the Euro league table.
We are now ranked 13th in a league table of 33 countries -- up from 15th last year and 28th in 2006.
But the improvements are tempered by low marks for one key area of concern to the public -- speedy access to treatment.
The results are revealed in the latest annual Euro Health Consumer Index which scores the performance of health systems across Europe by examining different criteria.
However, despite the improvement serious weaknesses remain with scores for Irish patients getting a non-acute surgical operation in less than 90 days and access to cancer therapy in less than 21 days still disappointingly low.
The Irish health system is also among the worst performers when it comes to scores for getting a "bang for the buck".
Ireland ranks 10th in terms of healthcare spend but we are only 24th in the table of 33 countries when it comes to getting a return for our investment in health.
Other areas where the health service falls down are access to mammography (X-rays for breast cancer) and delays in securing a CT scan. We also get black marks for MRSA infections and for failing to provide direct access to a specialist, without first seeing a GP.
The health service also has a long way to go before it provides better use of technology for patients to enable them to make appointments electronically.
Ireland scores well for low rates of infant deaths, same-day access to a family doctor, care of diabetics and access to new drugs.
The table, compiled by a Brussels-based think tank, said the improvements in the health system here were not reflected in patients' views of the service.
It said: "The Irish healthcare system seems to have a domestic marketing problem -- the responses to the patient organisation survey give a much less positive picture than the official data." The top performer across Europe is the Netherlands.
It scored an overall 875 points to Ireland's 701 points when various criteria were measured.
The other countries ahead of Ireland are Denmark, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Belgium and Finland.
The report said Ireland had developed well in terms of consumer friendliness. It commented: "The creation of the Health Service Executive was obviously a much-needed reform."
When measuring Ireland's "bang for the buck" score, the report pointed out that the "availability of a lot of money frequently results in decreasing cost effectiveness".
Commenting on the result, HSE chief Brendan Drumm said: "This year's ranking shows that our modernisation programme is working.
"As we continue to focus on more effective ways of working we expect that our ranking will continue to improve."
However, Mr Drumm said Ireland performed poorest in e-health. This covers e-transfer of medical data between professionals, e-prescriptions, lab tests electronically communicated to patients. It is recognised that improvement in this area requires ongoing development and investment.