In 2016, the EU announced the start of a two-year initiative to provide member states with health-related evidence to help optimise the effectiveness, resilience, and accessibility of their health systems.  This information is relevant to their specific country context and has been collected and collated by internationally recognised experts providing a concise and policy-relevant overview of health and health systems.

The United Kingdom 2017 Health Profile has recently been published and can be seen in full here.

Highlights from the report are as follows:

  • Life expectancy has increased by 3 years and is higher than the EU average and the gap between men and women has closed by 1.2 years since 2000.  Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the leading causes of death and there has been a large increase in (recorded) deaths from Alzheimer’s and other dementias in recent years.
  • Behavioural risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol consumption account for almost 28% of the overall burden of disease in 2015 (measured in terms of DALYs) – similar to the EU average. They include smoking, diet, alcohol use and physical inactivity.  The proportion of adults who smoke daily in the United Kingdom has decreased sharply since 2000 (from 27% to 19%) and is 2% below the EU average.  Almost half of additional life years at age 65 are spent in poor health.
  • The UK has low levels of unmet need thanks to free, universal access to comprehensive public services.  Spending on health is comparable to the EU at present, but there are concerns surrounding future levels of spending.  Self-reported health inequalities due to socio-economic status are significant, with behavioural risk factors more prevalent in lower socio-economic groups.
  • The number of hospital beds is the third lowest in the EU at 2.6 per 1000 in 2015 (the EU average is 5.1 per 1000).  Problems finding beds often leads to long waits in emergency departments, while high bed occupancy rates (at 84.4% the second highest in the EU) raises capacity concerns.  The average length of stay has also been declining, reaching a low of 7.0 days in 2015 (EU average is 8.0 days).
  • The number of doctors has increased, but at 2.8 per 1000 population, was the third lowest in the EU in 2015 (with an EU average of 3.6 per 1000).  Nursing numbers have fallen per 1000 population with levels lower than the EU average, and coupled with problems within the social care system, are placing a strain upon waiting times.  The intention to leave the EU may create uncertainty for the many foreign health and social care professionals currently working, or hoping to work, within the UK healthcare system.
  • Avoidable mortality rates while still below the EU average for both men and women, are higher than in many of the wealthier EU countries particularly from ischaemic heart disease and respiratory conditions.  Cancer screening rates are high but 5-year survival rates after diagnosis remain in the bottom half of the 25 countries for which data are available.
  • Generic prescribing now accounts for up to 78% of volume and 39% of the value of (reimbursed) pharmaceuticals, a much higher proportion than in most other EU countries.
  • A large funding gap has been projected by 2020–21 which presents a real challenge to resilience.
  • Integration of care is seen as increasingly central to improving efficiency and keeping patients in the most appropriate (and lowest cost) setting. It is hoped that improved delivery and co-ordination of care outside of hospital will eventually help to reduce the long-term call on health services.

To read the full UK 2017 health profile produced by the EU, please click here.