Health Minister: priorities are shorter queues, longer life expectancy

Wednesday’s debate is the first in a series of seven planned debates called Wspólnie dla Zdrowia (“Together for Health”). Photo: Pixabay/Parentingupstream/CC0

“Our priorities in the near future are shortening queues and improving access to specialists,” the Health Minister said, prior to a debate on Wednesday.

The Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski also declared that PLN 1.5 bln (EUR 350 mln) would be spent on the health system, in addition to the current funding.

At a press briefing prior to Wednesday’s debate on Poland’s health system, Mr Szumowski and the chairman of the National Health Fund Andrzej Jacyna declared that the extra money would be spent on funding operations for cataracts, implanted prostheses, computed tomography exams, and MRI scans among others, as well as on rehabilitation for disabled people.

The Health Minister most likely did not specify these operations unintentionally. Cataracts operations and prosthesis implants are among the procedures with the longest queues in the Polish health system.

According to Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (NIK), in 2016 the average waiting time for a knee joint prosthesis was 718 days, while the longest waiting time recorded was 1263 days – almost three and a half years. The results for other procedures were not much better, with the average waiting time for a cataract operation being 601 days, and for neurological rehabilitation – 131 days. What’s more, NIK also noted a trend in comparison to previous years which indicated that the situation was only going to get worse before it got better.

Wednesday’s debate is the first in a series of seven planned debates called Wspólnie dla Zdrowia (“Together for Health”), which are set to take place around Poland until June 2019.

Mr Szumowski was keen to point out the necessity to invest not only in an improved health system, but preventative measures must also be taken.

“If we want to increase the life expectancy of Polish citizens, it is not enough to treat them well. Medical intervention accounts for only 30 percent in increasing life expectancy. The other 70 percent are preventative measures,” the Health Minister said, but has not yet specified what these measures might be.

According to Mr Szumowski, the series of debates is intended to be an indicator of the health system not only for the current health ministry, but also for those to come in the future.

“The majority of debates in the past have been how to deal with a crisis in the health system. Now, for the first time in history, the whole government is making a very concrete political declaration that health is a priority,” he said.

Polish health in numbers

The OECD has collected data regarding the health systems of its 37 member countries. Poland ranked 25th in terms of overall financing of the health system with a total of EUR 1,528 per capita in 2016. This put them far behind the European leaders Luxembourg, which spends EUR 6,341 per capita.

Poland is forth in Europe in terms of length of hospital stay, with an average of 6.9 days, behind Portugal (7.1 days), Luxembourg (7.5 days) and Germany (7.6 days).

In terms of life expectancy at birth, Poland ranks 23rd out of 28 in the European Union with an average of 77.6 years (73.5 for men and 81.6 for women). At the bottom of the list is Lithuania with an average of 74.5 years, while Spanish citizens can expect to live the longest with an average life expectancy of 83 years.