The crisis has resulted in the emergence of new vulnerable groups, who no longer have access to healthcare, according to a new report.
In the wake of the economic and financial crisis, many governments in the EU cut spending on healthcare services.
The crisis has been a major factor influencing changes to the complex healthcare systems, creating significant differences between member states. But even in countries that chose to make few cuts to the health services, it has still been possible to identify impacts of the crisis on access to healthcare.
While unemployment, financial problems and reduced prevention have increased the need for certain healthcare services, falling disposable income has made access to healthcare more difficult for many EU households.
According to the report Access to healthcare in times of crisis, published by Eurofound, the tripartite European Union Agency, whose role is to provide knowledge in the area of social and work-related policies, new and unexpected groups are now prevented from getting healthcare.
For example, increased unemployment in the EU in recent years has limited access to healthcare especially among young men, while increased household debt problems have likewise made access to healthcare services difficult for young couples facing housing and job insecurity.
Meanwhile, those groups that are already in vulnerable situations and for whom accessing healthcare has for a long time been difficult, have in some cases faced further cuts to the measures that could help them gain access to healthcare.
These groups include people who live in remote areas; those with low health literacy, poor education and low incomes; people with disabilities, elderly people and people with chronic illnesses as well as homeless people and migrants.
The Eurofound report states that policymakers and service providers need to review their crisis responses when financial pressures on EU member states begin to ease as unexpected or indirect consequences of cuts and reduced disposable income on access to services.
In some countries, for example, the demand for nursing home care has declined because the pensions of elderly relatives are an important source of household income. In other cases, people have moved from private to public healthcare, creating increased demand, while private hospitals have gained more clientele partly as an indirect consequence of the crisis.
Eurofound suggests that policymakers and service providers determine whether quick responses to a new situation may be worse than overhauling the system as a whole.
The EU agency also recommends investing in the working conditions of healthcare staff, and not salaries, as an effective option to tackle staff shortages, while investments in the short run, for example, in ICT, self-help facilities, and home and ambulatory care, could free up resources over the long term.
The eurozone debt crisis has forced some governments to drastically cut their public health budgets in an effort to contain deficits.
Greece was among the countries taking the toughest measures, but Spain and other countries such as France and the Czech Republic have also taken similar steps.
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