Health in Ireland Today
- Population, life expectancy and general health
- Birth rate
- Mental Health
- Hospital care
- Community services and residential care
- Health Service employment
- Health Service expenditure
In recent years, the population of the Republic of Ireland has grown more rapidly than at any time since the foundation of the State. It has increased from 2.8 million in 1961 to 4.2 million in 2006, and has risen by almost 16% in the last decade.
As a nation we are living longer. In the 1960s the average Irish man could expect to live to about 68 years; now he should be around to celebrate his 75th birthday. Women fare much better, with a life expectancy of 72 years in the 1960s. This has now risen to over 80 years.
For the first time, our average life expectancy is now above that of the EU average. There has been a rapid increase, unmatched by any other EU country, since 1999.
Ireland has the highest levels of self-perceived health among countries in Europe that have conducted such a survey. Some 83.7% of men and 82.1% of women rate their health as being good or very good. However, significant chronic health problems are evident in older age groups.
Ireland has the second highest fertility rate in the EU, exceeded only by France. The birth rate, meanwhile, has levelled off at about 61,000 babies born per year.
Diseases of the circulatory system and cancer continue to be the major causes of death. There have, however, been very significant drops in death rates due to circulatory system disease, with a reduction of 38% since 1997 and a reduction of 50% over the last 30 years. Furthermore, Ireland has the second lowest death rate for stroke, after France.
Cancer accounts for almost 30% of all deaths in Ireland. Cancer of the digestive organs accounted for almost one third of cancer deaths in 2005.
Lung, bronchus and trachea cancer accounted for one in every five cancer deaths.
Breast cancer is still a major cause for concern. Breast cancer mortality, accounting for almost 9% of cancer deaths, hasnít shown any notable improvement in recent years, and the number of deaths from breast cancer has escalated from 371 in 1968 to 678 in 2005.
Mortality from breast cancer in Ireland is significantly higher than the EU average, with only Denmark and the Netherlands recording higher rates.
AIDS continues to be a worldwide problem and Ireland is no exception. However, while the prevalence of AIDS has remained at a similar level since 1999, deaths have fallen significantly over the period, reflecting improved treatment and survival. HIV/AIDS incidence in Ireland is the third lowest in the EU.
Fewer people are being admitted as inpatients to psychiatric care. Numbers in psychiatric hospitals have fallen by 28% since 1997.
However, these figures reflect a change in the treatment of mentally ill patients. The trend in the last few years has been for an increase in community psychiatric facilities, and a corresponding decrease in the number of mentally ill people being treated in hospitals. In addition, length of stay of people admitted for inpatient treatment is much shorter.
While inpatient levels have fallen, however, psychiatric admissions have remained steady, at between 20,000 and 30,000 per year.
Smoking is one of our most serious health problems. World Health Organisation figures for smoking related causes of death among EU countries show Ireland as having the highest mortality rate, with 300 people in every 100,000 dying from smoking related causes. Some 27% of Irish people are regular daily smokers. While this number is slightly less than the EU average, it remains a major cause of concern.
Alcohol consumption in Ireland is now one of the highest in the EU. The largest percentage increase has been in wine consumption, although this still represents less than one fifth of total alcohol consumption. Consumption is continuing to increase. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Ireland ranks ninth in the EU for alcohol-related deaths.
Suicide overtook motor vehicle accidents as a principal cause of death in the mid 1990s, although suicide rates are now starting to decrease. The number of people killed or injured in motor vehicle accidents has seen a reduction from almost 14,000 in 1996 to 8,241 in 2004.
The number of deaths due to work-related accidents continues to exceed the EU average, with 1.7 such deaths per 100,000 people.
Since 1997, there has been almost a 50% increase in hospital discharges, including a 130% increase in day case discharges. According to the Department of Health and Children, less invasive and improved medical practice is largely responsible for the rapid growth in day patient activity.
While medical card coverage has decreased, the number of prescription items dispensed under the General Medical Services (GMS) has almost doubled, going from 20 million to about 38 million since 1997.
Numbers of children in care shows an increase of about 38% between 1996 and 2004.
Nursing home care shows increases in both the average age and average levels of dependency of residents.
In Intellectual Disability Services, day attendees and full-time residents show moderate increases of about 5% since 1996.
Overall employment in the public health services increased by nearly 57% to over 105,000 full time staff between 1997 and 2006, with the biggest increase being in the paramedical professions.
Furthermore, the number of hospital consultants and doctors rose by almost two thirds. The number of GMS GPs increased by 38%.
Total public health expenditure has risen from Ä3.6 billion in 1997 to over Ä12.3 billion in 2006, an increase of more than 236%. Health spending per capita has also increased.
Note: The data used in this article are predominantly taken from Health in Ireland: Key Trends 2013 and Health Statistics 2005, published by the Department of Health and Children.