Economic crisis: Saving banks or saving lives?

In countries where spending on healthcare is high, suicide and homicide rates are lower than societies with less well-funded services.

The level of spending on healthcare during an economic crisis can affect the number of suicides and homicides, new research published by the European Health Forum (EHF) has revealed.

The findings were unveiled at the twelfth annual EHF congress – the leading health policy conference for decision-makers and experts in the European Union – in Gastein, in the Austrian Alps. Dr David Stuckler, social epidemiologist at the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the report, told the conference that it was now more important than ever for the State to intervene.

He said:

“Cutting public health services is not a price worth paying – times of crisis are when people need help from their governments the most.

“In Sweden, where spending on health and social care per capita is relatively high, economic crisis did not result in higher suicide rates. In contrast, in Spain, where the public healthcare system is less well-resourced, suicide rates have risen sharply as unemployment increased.

“There is strong evidence that investing in health promotes economic growth. Financial crisis creates an opportunity to align economic stimulus with improved public health. For less than one per cent the money spent to rescue the financial system, we could prevent any additional deaths from the crisis.

“What is right in a boom is also right in crisis – it is just more urgent.”

Also on the agenda in Gastein are proposals for a Europe-wide policy on tackling cancer, the second most common cause of death in the EU, accounting for two out of every ten deaths in women and three out of every ten deaths in men. Each year, 3.2 million EU citizens are diagnosed with cancer – a figure likely to increase as the population ages unless co-ordinated action is taken.

4 Responses to “Economic crisis: Saving banks or saving lives?”

  1. Swagata

    “The level of spending on healthcare has a direct correlation with the number of suicides and homicides”

    Really? Note that the WHO data* on suicide levels shows that per 100,000, 19.7 Swedes commit suicide but 12.4 in Spain. Suicide levels are lower in Spain than Sweden.

    Rising suicide rates in Spain are more likely to be prompted by the chronic unemployment, plunging house prices and widespread personal debt that plague Spain.

    By contrast, Sweden has been spared by the recession. These factors could be more important than the level of healthcare spending.

    Also, there’s a typo in the first sentence too, “reserach”.
    * //www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/

  2. Shamik Das

    That link you provide is for May 2003…

  3. Swagata

    Some of the WHO data is even older Shamik. It would help if you could set out the current suicide rates, above all is the rate now higher in Spain than in Sweden?

    I still don’t see the direct correlation between healthcare spending and suicide rates. Look at the highest rates in the EU, they occur in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria. These are places with a healthcare system us Brits can only dream about (or pay for with BUPA).

    You could be confusing correlation with causality. For example higher suicide rates exist in Scandinavia than the Mediterranean but that doesn’t mean a diet rich with herrings, or time spent playing ice hockey, has a meaningful impact on suicide levels.

  4. willstraw

    Thanks, Swagata. That’s a fair point about the direct correlationand we’ve amended the text accordingly. But an interesting report nonetheless.

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