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Monday 21.05.2018 | Name days: Ingmārs, Ernestīne, Akvelīna

80% of Latvia’s population regard healthcare system as costly and ineffective

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More than 80% of the surveyed population believes that the Latvian health care system does not meet their needs. Moreover, to improve the situation, the respondents consider not only additional funding is necessary but also significant changes to the system itself, according to DnB NORD Latvijas barometrs data.

As the main reasons for dissatisfaction, the surveyed indicate the health care system inefficiencies, expensive medication (72%), medical services (67%), and insufficient funding (64%).

Part of correspondents view the continued reforms of the system and inconsistency in decisions as a major problem (41%), as well as the medical personnels inadequate attitude towards patients (38%).

When commenting on the service – especially medicine – expensiveness, Ģimenes aptieka Director Ilgvars Ķipēns (Kipens) explains the inhabitants’ opinion by comparing the available data on medicine prices in Latvia and other European countries with the residents’ salaries. A number of studies by unrelated public institutions and private organizations show that on average medicinal products in Latvia are cheaper than in other European Union (EU) countries; however, the society holds opposite views – 72% of the surveyed think they pay the most for medicines.

To his mind, such an impression is created because purchases of medicines take larger proportion of a family’s budget, and residents’ salaries are significantly lower than the average ones in Europe. In Latvia, the average salary (according to the Central Statistical Bureau data) is about 431 lats before tax deductions, which means that a person actually receives approximately 300 lats. While, for example, employees in the UK receive an average of 1500 lats. Assuming that a medicinal product costs five lats and its price is identical in the UK, the purchase of such product will cost Latvians 1.6% of their salary, but for British employees – only 0.3%. The difference is enormous, and also creates the feeling that we are spending more on medications, although prices are similar, Kipens indicates.

When evaluating the quality of the existing health care system and considering its improvement, more than half or 58% of the surveyed residents point out it should be fundamentally changed, while 33% indicate more funding should be allocated. Despite the wish for changes in the health care system, more than half of the respondents do not support the ongoing reform in hospitals, believing its objectives do not coincide with the society’s interests; whereas, 43% think it is being carried out inefficiently.

When commenting on the inhabitants’ criticism of the health care system in general and the previously carried reforms the Board Chairman of the medical association ARS Māris Andersons says Latvia is not meeting the criteria set by the EU, which calls for emergency assistance being available 70 km in distance or that doctors arrive within one hour after the call. If the availability of medical assistance deteriorates even further, the number of neglected diseases will continue to rise, as well as the number of people requiring long-term treatment (and the treatment of lingering diseases will cost the state more). Unfortunately, a clearly negative trend is emerging – hospitals report that the number of pathologies has increased rapidly over the year, while the number of first group disabled people has grown by 50%. These are people who will not be able to return to the labour market.

DnB NORD Latvijas barometrs survey found that some inhabitants are willing to assume responsibility about payments for health care and would pay smaller taxes (43%), rather than higher ones, allowing the state to provide wider assortment of services covered by the budget.

Given that the residents of Latvia mostly do not trust the tax system as such (according to the previous DnB NORD Latvijas barometrs survey), it is logical that people would prefer insurance or taking greater responsibility for their health care payments. However, such evaluation is not fully objective, because Latvia’s residents are not accustomed to taking care of their health care and assuming responsibility for it. Moreover, to afford health insurance, relatively high income is needed, which, unfortunately, the majority of Latvia’s population do not have, says Liene Šulce, the Board Chairwoman of the Patient Ombudsman.

The survey also found that majority of the respondents visit their family doctor only in case of serious illness when self-medication was not helpful (44%), or when the emergency treatment or prescription for required medication is necessary (40%). Only 14% of the surveyed visit doctor as soon as they have any concerns about their own or their family members’ health. As one of the main obstacles in seeing the family doctor, the residents mention the expensiveness of medical services (50%).

By contrast, when evaluating their relationship with the family doctor, almost half of the surveyed population admit they trust their doctor (47%), 41% immediately turn to their doctor in case of health problems, but similar proportion of respondents mainly attended the family doctor to get visits to other specialists.

When asked about doctors’ salaries, which has caused debates in the society at least for the last decade, 31% say they actually do not know the specific amount, but 22% considered it as too low. Overall, 40% of the surveyed inhabitants believe that medical personnel’s salaries are adequate to Latvia’s circumstances (24%) or even higher than those of other professions (16%).

Due to an unknown reason, there is still a view that doctors earn quite well, although it is clear that with all the heavy responsibilities and hardly obtained knowlegde doctors earn smaller salaries than the average ones in other sectors of the national economy. So the question remains whether inhabitants know that doctors mainly gain income by having at least two jobs and a number of shifts, points out the Latvian Medical Association’s President Pēteris Apinis.

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