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Cuts to medical spending hurting Spaniards: OECD

George Mills · 22 Nov 2013, 10:53

Published: 22 Nov 2013 10:53 GMT+01:00

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Many key health indicators are improving across the OECD, but total health spending has taken a hit, according to the organization's Health at a Glance 2013 report.

While average life expectancy has now passed 80 years across the wealthy 34-member OECD bloc, total health spending fell in one of three OECD countries between 2009 and 2011, with those hardest hit by the crisis most affected. 

Health at a Glance 2013 reveals that while Spanish health spending grew by 1.6 percent from 2000 to 2009, this figure dropped by 0.5 percent from 2009 to 2011.

Cuts to spending on cost-effective prevention programmes on obesity, harmful use of alcohol and smoking are all a cause for concern, says the OECD in the report.

"Any short-term benefits to budgets are likely to be greatly outweighed by the long-term impact on health and spending," the authors argue.

The authors of the report have also expressed concern that waiting times for some operations in Spain are beginning to increase after years of improvement.

People wanting cataract surgery in Spain now have to wait around 90 days, or three times more than people in the Netherlands.

This is similar for people awaiting hip surgery, where waiting times are now around 120 days, against the 40 days seen in the Netherlands. 

Figures from Spain's Health Ministry show waiting times for elective surgery in Spain have surged from 76 in mid-2012 to over 100.

The report reveals average life expectancy in 82.4 years, or just below top placed Switzerland where this figure is 82.8. 

The OECD study also reveals that Spain has 3.8 doctors per 100,000 people, or just above the OECD average of 3.4.

Greece has the highest number of doctors per person at 6.1.

Spain's reputations as a nation of hypochondriacs doesn't appear to be justified either. People living in Spain visit the doctor an average of 7.4 times a year, against an OECD average of 6.2 times.

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South Koreans make the largest number of visits, going 13.2 times a year on average.  

In August, Spain's health care system was awarded first place in Europe in the latest edition of Bloomberg's health care spending efficiency rankings.

With a per capita health care cost of $3,027 (€2287), and overall health care spending at 10.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Spain clocked up an efficiency spending score of 68.3 out of 100.

The global winner in that study was Hong Kong with a score of 92.6. Life expectancy in the former UK colony is a very high 83.4 while heath spending eats up just 3.8 percent of GDP.

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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