Must the cost of healthcare go on rising inexorably?

The cost of health service is going to rise a great deal in coming years.This is due to the ageing of the population and to the cost of medical treatments at the end of people’s lives. Rising incomes in society also lead to higher expectations of health services and higher pay costs within the health service. Advances in medical technology make better treatments available, but these treatments are often costlier than the (less effective) treatments they replace.


But there are choices that can be made. For example, on certain assumptions, a McKinsey study suggested that the cost of the health service in Ireland in 2040 could range between 10% of GDP and 18%, depending on policy choices. In the UK the range is between 11% and 14% of its GDP, and the range in the US is between 24% and 26%.


What can be done to contain costs? I saw a report of a British NHS report on Accident and Emergency visits which suggested:

+ one million of the 5.2 million annual visits to A and E were avoidable
+40% of patients who visit A and E are discharged needing no treatment at all
+ 50% of Ambulance call outs could be managed at the scene without going to hospital
+ 20% of GP consultations could be dealt with by self care or a visit to a pharmacy

These statistics suggest that there is plenty of room to encourage people to learn more about looking after their own health. The challenge is to devise policies that incentivise this in a responsible way.