Longer life, but not necessarily healthier life

Life expectancy now exceeds 80 years in most EU countries according to the new report “Health at a Glance: Europe 2016“, but these are not always healthy life years. Around 50 million people in the EU suffer from several chronic diseases, and more than half a million people of working age die from them every year, representing an annual cost of some €115 billion for EU economies. Three fundamental changes are needed if this is going to change:

  • more effective health systems: 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 and secondly, by improving the quality of acute and chronic care.
  • more accessible health systems: 27% of patients go to A & E 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.
  • more resilient health systems: 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.

More information about Improving Health Systems on the europa.eu website