The Irish healthcare system compared to the rest of the EU

IN IRELAND, we are often reminded that our healthcare system pales in comparison to our European neighbours.

This was particularly highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, where we endured Europe’s longest lockdown, partly out of fear that our underfunded healthcare system would be overwhelmed.

But how do we really compare to the rest of Europe? This can be difficult to determine – there are many metrics, numbers, and statistics that can be weighed against each other, and all of them can paint a very different light.

To help explain this, we’ve looked at some key comparative tools to see how Ireland fares on a continental basis. Some show that we are paving the way for European healthcare, while others show that we still have a long way to go.

The good: life expectancy

Across the EU, we have the highest life expectancy at just over 82 and rank fourth overall when all countries in Europe are included. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has had debilitating effects on life expectancy in some countries, has left Ireland’s figure relatively unscathed, due to our low per capita death toll from the pandemic.

Our prolonged lockdown has clearly helped reduce the number of deaths, which has helped keep our life expectancy stable, but Ireland still had the highest life expectancy in 2019 – suggesting it’s something deeper than our Covid-19 response.

The Bad: Hospital Beds

Source: /Datawrapper

Ireland had the third lowest number of hospital beds available in the EU in 2019, just ahead of Sweden and Denmark. It was (relatively) worse in the past: we ranked last in 2012 and 2013 before overtaking Sweden, and we’ve been on the low end ever since.

There are some surprising leaders in the EU: Romania and Bulgaria are at the high end, despite having some of the lowest life expectancies in the EU, as we saw on the last map.

However, we have relatively controlled our population – the number of hospital beds has only changed by -1.4% since 2015, compared to -15.1% in Sweden and -23.1% in Finland.

The good (in a way): health expenditure

Source: /Datawrapper


Source: /Datawrapper

Ireland spends almost €5,000 (€4,819) on healthcare for every citizen, which is well above the EU average of €3,197 and almost €1,000 more than the UK. United. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Despite our increased health care spending, spending has actually fallen relative to our gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI), which basically means that as we got richer, we spend proportionally less on our health care. .

Of course, there are pitfalls to this. Our GDP is infamously tied to the repatriation of profits from American multinationals, so GNI is a much better barometer for this comparison. The percentage changed in 2020 as our GNI and GDP tightened and our healthcare spending increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Bad (sort of): Doctors Per Capita

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Ireland ranks 22nd out of 29 in Europe for doctors per capita, which is linked to the availability of hospital beds. However, of the countries that have fewer doctors per capita than we do, each has more hospital beds available – suggesting that their hospitals may be understaffed compared to ours.

Ireland remains four places behind the former EU member state, the United Kingdom, while surprisingly ahead of the Netherlands and Poland.

Above average: treatable and preventable deaths

Source: /Datawrapper

Ireland is fairly good in a European context for treatable and preventable deaths (those that can be treated with effective healthcare systems and those that can be prevented through education and screening).

We rise above Germany, Belgium and the UK, but are beaten by the Netherlands, Cyprus and Spain, for a safe and accommodating 13th place out of 34.

What’s Not Great: Obesity

Source: /Datawrapper

It’s official, Ireland has the second highest obesity rate in the EU, just behind Malta. More worryingly, we have seen a staggering increase in obesity numbers since 2014 – a 7.7% increase, by far the highest in the EU.
25.9% of the Irish population is considered obese, according to their body mass index (BMI).

England and Scotland both have higher rates, at 28% and 27.5% respectively, suggesting it could be regional or diet-based. However, their data is collected independently and is not part of the EU figures, so it has not been included in this visualization.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant program from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are those of the author. The European Parliament has no involvement or responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information see here.