Date Published: 18 February 2009
Kiwis Living Longer Helped by Better Healthcare
Kiwis are living on average six years longer than they did 25 years ago and a new study suggests that two of the extra six years of life are the result of better health care.
The study, produced by the Health and Disability Systems Strategy Directorate of the Ministry of Health, shows that better health care for some diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers has helped boost our average life expectancy.
“This study shows that getting the health care you need when you need it is critical. For most people, that means in the first instance care from your GP, practice nurse and the services they coordinate,” said Dr Fran McGrath, Deputy Director of Public Health.
The difference in life expectancy between ethnic groups and between socio-economic groups varies from four to eight years, depending on the groups being compared. The study found that treatable causes of death account for about a quarter of that difference.
“Health services and health practitioners make a substantial difference to health inequalities by ensuring early access to high quality services for all,” said Dr McGrath. “However, this study also shows there is scope for further improvement. The challenge to health services is to do even better.”
Recent progress in improving early access to health services includes lower charges for GP visits and medicines. The most recent NZ Health Survey (carried out in 2006/07) shows that under two per cent of people found cost to be a barrier for going to see their GP, down from six per cent in the previous survey (done in 2002/03).
“This study suggests that policies to further improve access to care and to provide high quality care for people with chronic conditions could contribute to further improvement in life expectancy for all New Zealanders,” Dr McGrath said.
“At the same time, it is clear that the basics of being healthy remain a clean and safe environment, employment, housing, income and a healthy lifestyle. Keeping physically active, eating a healthy diet, being smokefree and drinking only moderately are all well established ways of keeping healthy."
The study is published in the February edition of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.