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Europeans live longer, but not always in good health

23 November 2016, 23:28 CET
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Europeans live longer, but not always in good health

Elderly people

(BRUSSELS) - Life expectancy in most EU countries now exceeds 80 years, says a new OECD-EU joint report, but this record life expectancy is not always matched by healthy life years.

The European Commission/OECD joint report "Health at a Glance: Europe 2016" shows that policies that aim at promoting good health and preventing diseases as well as more effective healthcare could save lives and billions of euros in the European Union.

Around 50 million Europeans suffer from several chronic diseases, and more than half a million people of working age die from them every year. This represents an annual cost of some EUR 115 billion for the EU economies.

The report, which is used to provide useful information for EU Member States to shape their policies on health, finds that many people die every year from potentially avoidable diseases linked to risk factors such as smoking or obesity, says Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis: "It also highlights the need to continue our efforts in making sure that healthcare becomes more accessible."

"Many more lives could be saved if the standards of care were raised to the best level across EU countries," added OECD Secretary Angel Gurria: "More needs to be done to reduce inequalities in access and quality of care, and European health systems must become more efficient in channelling resources where they have the most impact on health outcomes, including on prevention."

Policy messages from the report include a need for health systems that are more effective, more accessible and more resilient, says the Commission.

550,000 people of working age die every year from potentially avoidable diseases. 16% of adults are obese now (up from 11% in 2000) and one in five is still smoking. Many lives could be saved firstly, by focusing more resources on health promotion and disease prevention strategies to address these and other risk factors, and secondly, by improving the quality of acute and chronic care.

27% of patients go to the emergency department due to the lack of availability of primary care; an average of 15% of health spending is paid directly out-of-pocket by patients with large disparities between countries; and poor Europeans are on average 10 times more likely to have problems in getting proper healthcare for financial reasons than more affluent ones. Member States' policies should focus on reducing financial barriers to healthcare, strengthening access to primary care, and reducing excessive waiting times.

Across the EU the share of the population over 65 has increased from less than 10% in 1960 to nearly 20% in 2015 and is projected to increase to nearly 30% by 2060. Population ageing, combined with increasing rates of chronic diseases and budgetary constraints, will require changes in how we deliver healthcare, including developing eHealth, reducing hospital stays by organising services better in primary and community care, and spending more wisely on pharmaceuticals, including by making full use of opportunities for generic substitutions.

The "State of Health in the EU" cycle aims to help Member States respond to the above challenges by supporting them in their efforts towards better knowledge and stronger evidence-based policy making. It comprises a series of analytical products, established in partnership with the OECD and with the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

The report is the first product in the cycle. The next step is to produce country health profiles of all 28 EU countries highlighting the particular characteristics and challenges of each of them, by November 2017.

The 28 profiles will be accompanied by an analytical paper by the Commission, linking the findings to the broader EU agenda, and emphasising the circumstances of each Member State. The cycle will conclude with optional exchanges that Member States can propose.

Health at a Glance: Europe 2016 - State of Health in the EU Cycle (OECD-EU)


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