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Paul Moran: We're now being forced to put our health at risk as bills keep mounting

Health, and access to health services, are at risk of being caught in the crossfire of the economic crisis.

As part of our Herald/Millward Brown Lansdowne survey of Dubliners , we asked how the recession has affected our relationship and interaction with various elements of the health service.

The headline figure is that over a third of Dublin households (37pc) have put off going to the doctor over the past 12 months due to the cost of the visit.

There are two issues at play here -- the lack of "disposable" income we have and the fees GPs charge. This is particularly an issue for the lower middle classes -- they have been squeezed financially (as we all have been) but are not eligible, in many cases, for a medical card. Gender also figures -- just three in 10 men have postponed a visit against 43pc of women.

One suspects that women are more likely to be proactive in terms of prevention in the first instance, but have had to cut back further -- they are more likely to put their family's health before their own

There is a strong correlation with age -- the younger you are, the greater the likelihood of postponing a visit -- death is less of a reality. Older patients may have a greater need (just one in five of those aged 65+ have delayed contact with a GP), but also have greater access to free healthcare.

However, it is sobering to see that 44pc of 18 to 24-year-olds and 43pc of 25 to 34-year-olds have postponed visits.

Insurance

In particular for the latter group, they are most likely to have young families (although the next cohort up, the 35 to 49- year-olds, are only faring marginally better -- 39pc of them have delayed a visit).

That safety net that we have previously had, in the form of private health insurance, has also been hit. And make no mistake about it -- we do use health insurance as our safety net.

We often hear in the UK, media tales about the much- maligned NHS. Well, the differences in the figures between them and us are stark. Fewer than 20pc of UK residents opt for private health insurance -- less than half the uptake compared to Ireland. As a vote of confidence on our health system, it is illuminating.

Given the new Government's proposal for free GP cover, and in particular, the introduction of a universal health insurance by 2016, it is a tacit acknowledgement that the system we have is not working. For now, many of us with private health insurance are weighing up our options in terms of affordability. We asked Dubliners what relationship, if any, they have with private health insurance.

Four in 10 (41pc) have never had it, driven unsurprisingly by the young (68pc of 18 to 24- year-olds) and those from a lower socio-economic background (60pc of C2DEs). Almost two in five (38pc) have private health insurance and have not reduced their cover at all. Once all the insurance price increases kick in, this might change again.

This leaves us with a sizeable (and startling) minority who have had to cut back on what they can afford. One in 10 Dubliners have cancelled their premiums altogether because they simply couldn't afford it anymore. A further one in eight have reduced the amount of cover they have.

Retreated

Interestingly, the more affluent in society, the ABs are not immune to cutbacks -- 14pc of them have cut back on their policies, with a future 9pc giving up altogether.

Those within the 25 to 34-year-old and 35 to 49-year-old groups have retreated most strongly -- over a quarter of each have retracted on their policies to some extent.

While the proposals of the new Government to tackle to issues with our health service are laudable, is it a case of too little too late for a lot of financially strapped Dubliners?

Paul Moran is a Research Project Manager with Millward Brown Lansdowne