The Netherlands has the best healthcare in the EU: Survey

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The Netherlands has retained its position at the top of the annual Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) which compares healthcare systems in Europe.

On 48 indicators such as patient rights and information, accessibility, prevention and outcomes, the Netherlands secured its top position among 35 European countries for the fourth year in a row, scoring 870 of a maximum 1,000 points.

In the EU, the Netherlands was followed by Denmark, Belgium and Germany as the countries with the best healthcare, while Romania, Poland and Latvia scored the lowest.

The EHCI is compiled using a combination of public statistics, patient polls and independent research conducted by Swedish NGO Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP).

Speaking at the launch of the EHCI 2013 in Brussels on Thursday (28 November), Arne Björnberg of the HCP said the EU could learn a lot from the Dutch on healthcare.

"The Netherlands has what we call 'a chaos system', meaning patients have a great degree of freedom from where to buy their health insurance to where they get their healthcare service. The difference between The Netherlands and other countries is that the chaos is managed. Healthcare decisions are being made in a dialogue between the patients and the healthcare professionals," Björnberg said.

He added that regardless of all the talk about the financial crisis, actual treatment results in European healthcare continued to improve.

"There are a lot of patient organisations who don't like us saying this because they make a living on telling everybody that everything is going down the drain, and that we need more money and more attention. This might be true, but treatment results are improving," Björnberg continued.

However, the EHCI's accessibility indicator, was criticised at the launch event for measuring only waiting times for treatments without considering financial restraints.

In some European countries like Sweden or Belgium the poorest might be deterred from making appointments because they pay upfront each time they visit a doctor and are reimbursed later, critics said.

'Two-speed' system

The HPC mentioned that one of the key findings in 2013 is of a 'two-speed' delivery of healthcare depending on the country. The quality of care that a patient can expect is discernibly higher in rich countries than in the poorer ones, and this gap is widening.

"European healthcare is far from equal. This goes for basic services such as infant vaccinations and access to new cancer pharmaceuticals," said Vytenis Povilas Andriukatis, the Lithuanian health minister.

The HPC also raised concerns for healthcare companies and patients over access to new treatments and therapies, saying that financial restraints have encouraged a growing number of countries to increase the delay between the approval of new medicines and therapies and reimbursements made for these.

"Although we have seen this tactic in previous HCP Indices, it was usually restricted to poorer countries. However, it is becoming commonplace in richer countries, such as Sweden and Switzerland," Björnberg said.

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.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Austerity: Healthcare in hardship

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