Austerity threatens Europe’s disease prevention

 Health spending is falling across Europe, leading to neglect of public health strategies, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned.

The OECD report observed that austerity measures are leading governments to focus spending on acute care, while preventative strategies such as immunisation and smoking cessation are neglected.

Health spending per person in the EU has fallen from an average annual growth rate of 4.6% between 2000 and 2009 to −0.6% in 2010.

The UK is typical, with a drop in health spending of 0.5% in 2010 after a decade of annual growth at 4.9%.

Other countries further along the austerity road show a steeper decline – for example, health spending in Ireland fell by 7.9% after a decade of 6.5% growth.

As Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne stated in 2006 that Ireland’s economy was a model the UK should follow.

The OECD report notes that smoking and obesity are the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which caused 36% of all deaths in Europe in 2010.

Obesity rates have doubled across Europe since 1990, now at 17% of the population – and 25% in the UK.

“Governments under pressure to protect funding for acute care are cutting other expenditures such as public health and prevention programmes,” noted the OECD.

“In 2010, on average across EU countries, only 3% of health budgets were allocated to prevention and public health programmes in areas such as immunisation, smoking, alcohol, nutrition, and physical activity.”

The effects of this neglect of preventative healthcare will be seen in the coming years, the report warned.