Between 2009 and 2011, health spending per capita fell in one out of three OECD countries, with those hardest hit by the crisis most affected, according to a new report by the influential Paris-based think tank, published today (21 November).
More than three-quarters of OECD countries reported a cut in real-terms spending on prevention programmes during 2010, and half spent less than in 2008, according to the report, Health at a Glance 2013.
This is in sharp contrast to the strong growth in health spending during the years 2000-2008, prior to the crisis.
Government cuts were most marked in Greece (11.1%) and Ireland (6.6%).
The OECD said that governments had mainly lowered spending through cutting the price of medical good, especially pharmaceuticals, and by budget restrictions and wage cuts in hospitals.
"Cuts to spending on cost-effective prevention programmes on obesity, harmful use of alcohol and smoking are a cause for concern. Any short-term benefits to budgets are likely to be greatly outweighed by the long-term impact on health and spending," the report said.
Reductions in the supply of health services and changes in their financing through increases in direct out-of-pocket payments for patients have also affected access to care, the OECD stressed, resulting in waiting times for some operations in Portugal, Spain, England and Ireland after years of improvement.
According to the report, low-income groups are the worst affected and have less access to medicines or check-ups for chronic conditions which may have long-term health and economic consequences on the most vulnerable in society.
The crisis' health impact, however, has been mixed. While suicide rates rose at the start of the crisis, those figures have now stabilised.
Mortality from road accidents has declined, as the crisis has led to fewer cars on the raod, while alcohol and tobacco consumption also has fallen in many countries.