Health Statistics

Some statistics reveal a crisis of alcohol abuse and mental illness; from 1989 to 1999, for example, there was a 41% increase in alcohol consumption in Ireland, whereas in ten other European countries its consumption decreased. The following ten years, 1999 – 2009, witnessed a further 17% increase in alcohol consumption. Male suicide rates were also alarming; there were 525 suicides registered in the Republic in 2011 or 11.4 per 100,000 of the population.Male suicides that year accounted for 84% of all suicide deaths, which had remained largely consistent; for example, 519 deaths from suicide were registered in 2001 and 429 of them were male. In 2013, the Limerick coroner described suicide levels in the western part of the country to be at “contagion levels”’. But there were vast improvements in other areas; in 2002, for example, 526 people were killed in road accidents in the Republic and Northern Ireland but the number of people killed on the roads in 2010 was 212, down by 26 (10.9%) compared with the 2009 figure of 238.

Life expectancy at birth in Ireland in 2010 was 78.7 years for males and 83.2 years for females, above the EU averages, but the Irish health system remained problematic. Public expenditure on health care increased by almost one third from 2001 to 2011, but the question as to why the health system did not work more effectively was continually asked. Journalist Fintan O’Toole made the point that while spending on healthcare in Ireland had increased, there are five different kinds of hospitals in Ireland: public hospitals owned by the state, voluntary (usually church-run) hospitals which operate within the public system, private not-for-profit hospitals, private for-profit hospitals and private-for-profit hospitals co-located with a public hospital. In terms of entitlement there were four different kinds of patients with varying levels of cover and entitlement: “How could such a system be anything but a mess”? O’Toole asked. In 2010, an official report from the Department of Health stated, in bureaucratic language, what this meant in practice for a health system that employed over 100,000 people:

“There is no framework which allows decisions to be taken in an integrated way that links systematically with the overarching principles of the Irish health care system and aligns resources with goals”. In other words, it is a system in which there is simply not enough knowledge of what is exactly trying to be achieved. Yet one thing is strikingly clear: those who can afford private insurance get access to treatment more quickly than those who do not; while everyone is entitled to free public hospital care it is official policy to encourage people to take responsibility “for their own healthcare costs where this is possible.” Official government policy is to move towards universal health insurance though it is widely believed that this is unachievable in the short-term and the cost is unclear.


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