OECD highlights European health inequalities

3 Dec 14
Residents of European Union member states enjoy much longer life expectancy than did the previous generation, but large inequalities in health remain across and within countries, a report by the OECD and European Commission has found.

By Mark Smulian | 3 December 2014

Residents of European Union member states enjoy much longer life expectancy than did the previous generation, but large inequalities in health remain across and within countries, a report by the OECD and European Commission has found.

They said in Health at a Glance: Europe 2014 that this was largely due to disparities in access to, and quality of, care and individual lifestyle choices.

Life expectancy in EU member states has increased by more than five years on average since 1990, though an eight-year gap persisted between the highest - Spain, Italy and France- and lowest, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Across all member states, highly educated people were likely to live several years longer and in better health than those with low level of education, a trend particularly notable in central and eastern Europe.

The report found the proportion of people on lower incomes reporting an unmet need for medical or dental care was twice that among the population as a whole and four times greater than in the highest income groups.

‘Such unmet care needs may have long-term health and economic consequences,’ the report warned.   

Quality of care had generally improved in recent years in most European countries, despite the economic crisis, it found.

During the depths of the economic crisis between 2009-12 spending on health in real terms fell in half of the EU countries and significantly slowed in the rest.

On average, this reduction was 0.6% each year, compared with annual growth of 4.7% between 2000-09.

Universal health coverage though remained available in most states, but in several of them coverage was reduced, and payments by patients have risen. 

Mortality rates for people who had a heart attack decreased by 40%, and strokes by 20%, on average across EU countries over the past decade.

But disparities persisted with, for example, someone admitted to hospital for a heart attack being twice more likely to die within 30 days in Hungary and Latvia than in Denmark and Sweden.

Survival from different types of cancer also varied substantially across EU countries.

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